December 28, 2005

Memoirs Of a Geisha

Posted by Xun  |  No comments

I had eagerly waited to see "Memoirs of a Geisha". Everything about it seemed to pre-qualify it as a very good movie: the famed director, Rob Marshall, who directed "Chicago", a dazzling movie with "all that jazz" and dances; the very best Chinese actresses, Gong Li and Zhiyi Zhang. You have to be blind not to know them if you even just occasionally read some movie magazines; And it's topic, Japan with forever cherry blossoms and Japanese Geishas with their endless innuendos, … the sex, the beauty, the kimonos and the subculture.

But after I saw the movie myself, I think from now on I would much prefer seeing movies of Chinese martial arts, e.g., “The house of Flying Daggers”. Or at least I would much prefer Zhang Yimou to Rob Marshall, even though "Geisha" has often been compared to "Red Lantern".

Geisha is a pretty bad movie. Everything about it feels wrong, forced, affecting and lame. The dialogues, made worse by the heavy-accented delivery, were recited out like maxims from Mao's age. There was no shortage of cheap life philosophy. The chairman said to the little future-geisha something like "Next time you stumble do not cry" after he bought her sweets. Or Zhang ZhiYi’s Sayuri played wise: “You cannot judge a man from his appearance”. Nor shortage of one-line declarations: "I am innocent", "I will destroy you!".

The acting to me is very much overacted. Gong Li's Hatsumomo, with her often-unkempt hair, sneers and stares, is so intensely mean and treacherous that she lost depth and dimensions. Like caricatures from old movies. I read in the Time how Gong Li cried the whole time when the movie was over and workers cleaned the set. I was moved then, now I think how she could overact even offset.

(I wish I could say something better. I like most of her movies. I read gossips about her.)

The heart of the movie, the bare-threaded love story between the Sayuri and the "chairman" (he does not even have a name), is one of most unconvincing boring love stories I have seen. A little girl met an adult man (accompanied by two Geishas). He bought her sweets; she fell in love for him and determined to become a Geisha. She secretly kept his handkerchief. She met him again after about 10 years or so. She willingly or unwillingly waited on and flirted with numerous clients, including his friend. She sold her virginity at the highest price, while she adamantly declared her love for the chairman. Later, after America invaded, she bathed with Americans and later had sex with the general. Sure, she does all these because of her love for the chairman.

The movie ended with Sayuri and the chairman holding each other, and Sayuri declared something like “everything I do is to get closer to you.”

The movie is filled with a lot of subplots of catfights between Hatsumomo and Sayuri. Very raw and stupefying. At its climax, Gong Li’s characters burned down the Geisha house. Yet miraculously, Zayuri kept the little handkerchief intact.

It also skims though the art of being of a Geisha, through Zayuri’s initiation. Very short and superfluous. But I enjoyed this part the most.

Roger Ebert says, “I suspect that the more you know about Japan and movies, the less you would like ‘Geisha’”. I think differently. However much you know about Japan or movies, it is unlikely you would love the movie.

It is too banal, too bad.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005
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