Hua hun is a charming, poignant film about twentieth-century Chinese painter and sculptor Pan Yuliang, framed as the elderly Yuliang’s reminiscence, but then hauntingly extended to include her death in Paris in 1977. Her family sold the orphaned fifteen-year-old to a brothel, but she gains her release through marriage to Pan Zanhua. They have both fallen deeply in love with one another. It is at the Shanghai Art Institute that Yuliang learns to paint; she completes her education, on scholarship, in Paris. Rejoining Zanhua, who is now in Nanjing, Yuliang becomes a popular professor at National Central University, but an exhibition of her artwork becomes scandalous because of its European influence and her own background. Unable to give her husband a child, she departs again for Paris, where she will remain in poverty for the rest of her life, leaving her husband to his first wife, with whom he has a son. Very late, she is exhibited at the Musée D’Orsay; but she dreams of acceptance in China, where she hopes her paintings someday will return. Eight years after her death, the dream materializes.
     Two women are primarily responsible for the overall beauty of this conventional biography. One is the filmmaker, Huang Shuqin, who handles nearly every aspect of Hua hun with tact, clarity and force. This holds especially true for its delicate unifying theme: Yuliang’s determination to take care of herself, however poor a job of it she manages, despite a series of sincere offers by others to do the job. Subtly and with assurance Huang conveys that this element of Yuliang’s mindset was essential for her work and its distinctive quality. Huang’s greatest collaborator is her brilliant star, Gong Li, who gives the performance of a lifetime as Pan Yuliang.

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