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With: Luo Yan, Willem Dafoe, Yi Ding, John Cho, Shek Sau, Amy Hill, Kate McGregor-Stewart
Written by: Luo Yan and Paul R. Collins, based on the novel by Pearl S. Buck
Directed by: Yim Ho
MPAA Rating: R for sexuality and war images
Language: English, Mandarin, with English subtitles
Running Time: 116
Date: 03/16/2001
IMDB

Pavilion of Women (2001)

1/2 Star (out of 4)

A 'Pavilion' That Should Be Condemned

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Wiser folk than I have always said that it's better to suffer through a bad drama than a bad comedy; at least with a bad drama, you still have something to watch. A comedy that's not funny is completely worthless. I now have to disagree with this statement. I would take ten Joe Dirts or Saving Silvermans before I would sit through the painfully bad Pavilion of Women again.

Based on a Pearl S. Buck novel (and I would lay money down that Ms. Buck is spinning in her grave at this moment), Pavilion of Women begins in pre-World War II China, where, inexplicably, everyone speaks English. A woman named Madame Wu (Luo Yan) decides that, at age 40, she can no longer take care of her husband's sexual needs and wrangles a new, younger wife (Yi Ding) for him. Meanwhile, an American priest (Willem Dafoe) living in China is hired to teach Madame Wu's son (John Cho) science and math.

Madame Wu is tired of being sexually mauled and coerced by her louse of a husband (Shek Sau), whose favorite pastime is to shove his wife's head down to his crotch. She claims that she has grown too old for these duties, but clearly she's never been too thrilled with them. By passing her misery onto a younger woman, we automatically come to hate both Madame Wu and her husband. Of course Madame Wu's son falls for his new young "mother" and longs to begin a love affair with her.

Meanwhile, Madame Wu becomes infatuated with the priest, Andre. And Andre doesn't even begin to question his faith when he develops feelings for her as well. In one stupid scene that the Hallmark people would be ashamed of, Madame Wu sprains her ankle, it begins to rain, and Andre carries her to the safety of a barn, complete with piles of soft, romantic straw. They begin to kiss and the movie cuts away, never even questioning the moral and religious pitfalls of such a union. This relationship might have been the movie's core, but it's too timid to do anything with it.

Usually these kinds of movies are simply gutless and boring. Pavilion of Women is all that and more. It's hateful, sickly, goopy, and inept. You won't believe how awful a movie can be as you watch this one slide ever so gradually into the pits of hell. Each scene is worse than the one that comes before it. When the final, inevitable, World War II attack comes, the clich├ęs this movie employs would make John Wayne wince in pain. And that epilogue! I've never, ever, in my life seen a last scene so purely, truly, awful. As I replay it in my mind, I question whether or not I actually saw what I saw.

As I left the screening, I spoke with four or five other reviewers from all walks of life. These are people whose tastes range from three-hour French epics to Samurai flicks to comic book movies. And they all hated Pavilion of Women equally. Even with the brilliant, Oscar-nominated Willem Dafoe in its cast, this movie amounts to nothing more than a waste of two hours.

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