The Bell of Purity Temple | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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The Bell of Purity Temple

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In contrast to younger colleagues who favor ambiguities and a laconic, digressive style, the veteran Chinese director Xie Jin has steadfastly remained an old-fashioned storyteller. Influenced by 40s Hollywood and by his country's folk-opera tradition--just as the new generation of filmmakers owes a debt to the European art cinema--Xie is at his most assured and economical in unscrolling sagas of grace and courage under adversity. He often shares with the great Japanese humanist Kenji Mizoguchi the view of women as nurturers and redeemers who stoically persevere through life's vicissitudes. In this Zen Buddhistic meditation on motherhood and filial allegiance, an eminent monk's remembrances of his kind adoptive mother are intercut with the desperate attempts of his Japanese birth mother, who lost him when he was an infant, to reach him during his visit to Tokyo. The juxtaposition of present and past is masterfully modulated by Xie to heighten the suspense: Will he return to China, the land of the poverty-stricken family that brought him up, or will he choose to stay in Japan to make up for the lost time with his natural mother? The answer, though expected, is startlingly poignant in its serene acceptance of fate. (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, October 16, 8:00, 443-3737)

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