Green Tea (Lü cha) [2003] • China • Zhang Yuan

I watched this film twice. Once with Chinese subtitles that often didn't stay on the screen long enough for me to read them completely, forcing me to stop and rewind ten seconds a bunch of times—which completely busted up the impressive audio/visual meter of the film—and a second time without the subs so I could luxuriate in its sensuous overload.

Some of the films Zhang Yuan has made in the past got him officially banned from making films in China for a period of time. Green Tea is not one of those films. It will (and does) disappoint the political types who prefer a little pedantry in their perceptual preoccupations and those who fight to find a true meaning in that which doesn't have or need it and get frustrated when a loophole appears.

One of the first things you need to know about this film is that its cinematographer is Christopher Doyle, the man responsible for the look of most Wong Kar-wai films: saturated colors and extreme camera angles. You'll find them here. He was also the cinematographer on Zhang Yimou's Hero (2002), one of the most beautiful films ever made. With that in mind, you have a pretty good hint that with Green Tea you're in store for something a little different from director Zhang Yuan.

This is a beautiful film, a colorful love poem to, about, and starring, Chinese actress Zhao Wei (a.k.a. Vicki Zhao). The woman is photographed so adoringly it's almost creepy. She plays two different and distinct roles in the film: a bespectacled graduate student and a sultry piano lounge singer—so librarian fetishists and jazzy drunks alike can fantasize out loud. The funny part, though, is that we're supposed to play along with the notion that donning a pair of bookish glasses suddenly makes Zhao one of those women "who become attractive over time", ya know, ugly. Yeah, right.

Zhao's graduate student character, Fang, is a serial blind-dater, anxious to marry, unwilling or unable to rid herself of a guy who is pretty sure she will become attractive over time. She does. So much so that when the guy meets her doppleganger, Lang, in the piano lounge, a woman reputed to be 'easy', he finds himself ever more drawn to Fang—probably because she is so hard. He is sure they are the same woman but Lang denies it and they strike up a friendly relationship filled with discussions of life and love. There is mature sexual politics running throughout the film for those who can't ingest ice cream without meat but you needn't get bogged down by it. This film is so thick on the surface its depth becomes muted. Beyond the ambiguous nature of the doppleganger scenario, there is also the story Fang relates to her suitor—which runs the length of the film infusing all the characters—about a friend who reads people's fortunes in tea leaves, who may or may not actually be Fang, who witnessed her mother kill her father, and stuff like that. Fang suggests she might just be making it all up. Her suitor doesn't care because fact and fiction reveal equally, but it starts to get complicated when details of the story begin to emerge in the real life of Lang ... who may or may not be Fang.

Green Tea is a gloriously gorgeous and fun ride. It's arty and complicated, maybe a little loose. The conversations and games of cat and mouse are witty and smart but at times you may find yourself more interested in trying to peer around something which seems to be in the way of what is being photographed than in piecing together the story. Stuff like that happens in this intelligent romance.



  1. Wow, you are turning into one hell of a reviewer.

    "There is mature sexual politics running throughout the film for those who can't ingest ice cream without meat but you needn't get bogged down by it."

    It's reading a sentence like this that elicits a spoken "Hello!" that lets me know I need to see this. Now there are two movies I must see.

  2. You should still have M and Lost Indulgence in the queue, so ... that's at least four. Time permitting. This one is a colorfest like M.

    I love the line at the end of the clip.