The Legend of Tianyuan Mountain | Chicago Reader

The Legend of Tianyuan Mountain

Directed by Xie Jin (Two Stage Sisters), this Chinese feature from 1980 suggests a lush Hollywood melodrama of the 1950s—it's even in wide-screen and real Technicolor—carried one step further into beautiful formal abstraction. The story concerns a party bureaucrat charged with reviewing the cases of “rightists” unjustly persecuted under the Gang of Four; she comes across the dossier of the man who was the one true love of her life (their romance is shown in flashback), but is unable to bring him back from his exile in the provinces because she is now married to the very commissar who initiated his purge. The compulsive doubling—of protagonists, of villains, of plot lines and time schemes—serves to underline the film's movement toward an overriding unity—the complete identification of the political and the personal. But this beautifully structured, magnificently filmed feature is much more than a piece of hammering propaganda: it represents the unself-conscious, uncondescending survival of a classical, studio-based style that otherwise has vanished from the world.

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