With so many pictures to choose from on an average day here, the auteur theory comes in mighty handy, since even if a movie by a familiar director turns out to be bad, at least you've traced the filmmaker's career a step farther and broadened your knowledge of its general trajectory. This is why I went to Xie Fei's new drama, "A Mongolian Tale," even though I'd heard it falls short of his previous film, "The Women From the Lake of Scented Souls," one of the best Chinese movies in recent years.
"A Mongolian Tale" is indeed less substantial than its predecessor, stringing out a slender story - about the long, troubled relationship of a man and woman who are brought up together and then expected to marry as young adults - to a greater length than its intermittent dramatic interest can sustain. The movie is extremely well photographed, though, with the eye-catching beauty that distinguishes most Fifth Generation films; and the performances are engaging, if not particularly deep or insightful. Also worth noting is Xie's continuing concern with problems faced by women in societies with both patriarchal traditions and modern-day attitudes that aren't as liberating as one would hope.
Introducing the film, Xie emphasized its universal human appeal rather than its interest in the specifics of Mongolian life. It would be a stronger and more serious work if this priority was reversed, but even as it stands "A Mongolian Tale" is worth seeing for its sensual appeal and its reconfirmation of Xie's status as one of China's major directors.
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