Suzhou questions

Suzhou River, 2000 dir. Lou Ye

  1. On an abstract level, the film deals with the issue of reality versus fiction; romance such as captured by the camera (that doesn’t lie) is only as real as people want to believe in it. Based on what happens in the film, how real is romance (love) in post-socialist China? 抽象来说,电影说的是事实与虚构的区别;被摄像机捕抓到的爱情故事的可信度跟一个人有多浪漫分不开。这个发生在后社会主义时代的爱情故事真实吗?
  2. As much as the videographer “I” says he loves Meimei who is convinced that the romance between Mada (engine) and Mudan (peony) exists, he won’t pursue her after she leaves him in the hope he will start to look for her like Mada Mudan. Do you share his views and values? Why? 虽然“我”说他爱美美,但当美美离开他,希望他像马达找寻牡丹一样去找她,我们知道“我”是不会去找她的。你觉得美美是现实的还是浪漫的?
  3. What are the core and key ingredients of this love story? How much of it do you think is true when told by Mudan, Mada, Meimei, and “I”, and how much is to be questioned or even rejected as “romance” (or untrue)? 一个爱情故事的主要成分是什么?你觉得美美告诉“我”的、牡丹和马达的爱情故事,有几分是真的,有几分太浪漫?
  4. One of the major reasons that the story (within the story) of Mada and Mudan’s love is hard to be taken seriously, anymore than there are mermaids, is that in post-socialist China people are so obsessed with money that anything of spiritual nature becomes suspect and subject to doubt. How do you explain Meimei’s self-contradiction when she says love exists only in romantic stories and yet imitates Mudan by leaving “I” so that he can pursue her like Mada? 牡丹马达的爱情有些难以让人相信,主要是因为在当今的商品社会人们除了钱以外对什么都不太相信。你怎么解释美美的分裂:她又信又不信马达和牡丹的爱情故事?
  5. How many acts of betrayal are there that characterize and poisoned human relationships in the story? 故事里有多少背叛行为?请举例。
  6. Suzhou River is a small tributary of Yangtzu River in Shanghai where it goes out to the Pacific Ocean; the name is associated with the seedy side of the City. What is the dialectic and anatomy of the love with dual relations to the death of idealism and the need for romance as exist in the story? 苏州河是长江在上海入海处的一条支流,沿河的住宅区比较老旧和简陋。你觉得那儿是否有一个辩证法:越贫穷落后人就越需要梦想和爱情神话?
  7. Who is supposed to be represented by the videographer whose face the viewer never sees? As one of the narrators of the story, how does he shape and influence our understanding of the romantic love in question? What do his values and attitudes mediate the story? 摄像师的脸我们谁都没有看见过;你觉得他代表了谁的视角和价值观?具体解释一下。
  8. How do you characterize the following: Mudan’s relation with her father, Mada’s relation with his ex-girlfriend Xiao Ho, his relation with Mudan, Xiao Ho’s relation with her partner in crime Lao B, Mada’s relation with Meimei, Meimei’s relation with the videographer, and his relation with Mada? Are there common themes running through these relations? 你觉得以下这些人与人的关系有哪些共同性:牡丹跟她父亲的关系、牡丹跟马达的关系、马达和美美的关系、马达和“我”的关系、美美和“我”的关系、马达和前女友小何的关系、小何和她同伙老B的关系?
  9. What can we learn about the nature of love? Apart from their similar physical attributes, Meimei and Mudan are identical also because the two girls’ life is signified by and inscribed in the leitmotif of romance, a subtext or palimpsest on which everybody can narrate and reinvent his or her story. Love story is often contagious because human desire is mimetic. People who recognize something about themselves in the story as Mada constructs it can come up with variations of it to satisfy their spiritual needs. Meimei imitates Mudan by leaving her cynical boyfriend in the hope (against hope) that the two of them could replicate Mudan-Mada story and that he would look for her to the ends of earth just like Mada. She wants what Mudan and everybody else wants, to be loved as Mada says they have loved. When she finds out that Mudan really exists and that Mada’s story is true, she starts to believe (in love?) again and identifies (imitates) Mudan.


  10. This is also the anatomy of identity. Just like romantic love, identity is that for which people are willing to live and die when they think that it is about them. In this sense, people are not unique as individuals but quite alike as human beings. Romance makes everybody feel very special but it is catered to a desire in all people. History is the epic (love) story of a nation, written in such a way that everybody recognizes a part of themselves in it, drawn to it as Meimei is drawn and consumed by Mada’s story, or people of Shanghai feeling inseparably associated with the name of a river, or the Chinese who would never stop to question their lineage to people living in Han and Tang dynasties, or Americans who would not even bat an eye about their Anglo-Protestant cultural tradition. Among other things, Lou Ye’s film tells the viewer that people always search for meaning and purpose in life no matter what. For Meimei, it is the stick-on tattoo of a tiny peony flower on her left thigh and the blond wig that enable her to partake in  Mudan-Mada story, followed by her sleeping with him. Likewise, we are also in search of that which helps us identify with something bigger than ourselves, a love story, a national narrative or a historical tradition.

    那么身份认同又是怎么回事呢?像浪漫故事一样,一种身份一旦被大家认同,人们甚至可以为它去死。这是人们之间的共性而不是个性。 浪漫故事让每个人都觉得自己很特殊但这种感觉却又是所有人都具备的。历史就是一个国家和民族的(爱情)史诗,在里面几乎每个人都能看见自己。大家都会努力去把自己放进去,就像美美努力去扮演牡丹的角色,就像上海人觉得苏州河就是他们身份认同的一个重要部分,就像中国人从来不质疑他们是“唐人”,“汉人”的后裔,就像美国人眼都不眨就会认同他们安格鲁-新基督教的宗教传统一样。娄烨的电影告诉我们,大家都在追寻中介物把自己和一个宏大的叙事联系在一起。美美开始在她的大腿上贴牡丹花的假纹身,开始跟马达睡觉。我们跟她一样,都需要参与到一个故事里来表明我们自己是谁。