Green Tea Review

Made immediately after I Love You (2002), Green Tea also takes a look at male/female relationships, but with its glossy colours and stunning, immaculately lit compositions, it couldn’t be further away from the intense documentary realism and emotional turmoil of Zhang Yuan’s previous film.

Chen Minglian (Jiang Wen) meets Wu Fang (Zhao Wei/Vicki Zhao) on a blind date. They don’t get on well, but Chen tries to continue their meetings. Each meeting follows a similar routine; he takes a coffee, she has a green tea; he presses her on why she goes on so many blind dates, she says she wants to get married; he asks why she just doesn’t want to have fun, she says she is conservative in nature – too conservative according to her friend. This routine brings the subject back to her mysterious friend, a continuing story she elaborates on further each time. Eventually Chen presses his attentions and his interest in her friend too far, Fang gets angry and walks off, leaving Chen with his work cut out to convince her to meet again. Rinse and repeat.

Chen meets another girl Lang, a glamorous pianist in a night-club. She is everything than Fang isn’t – talkative, outgoing. Fang ties her hair back and wears glasses, Lang wears here hair down and wears colourful and glamorous dresses. In behaviour and attitude, the two women couldn’t be more different, yet Chen is convinced Lang and Fang are the same person, or if they aren’t he doesn’t know which of the two very different women he is really attracted to.

The possibilities of the mise en scène in Green Tea are limited. Basically you have two characters talking in variations of a similar theme, often obliquely, in different places, but most often face to face in a coffee-shop. This would be difficult to make the film look interesting and hold your attention were it not for the stunningly beautiful and endlessly inventive cinematography of Christopher Doyle (Chungking Express, In The Mood For Love, Hero, The Quiet American). He constantly finds inventive shots which are never intrusive and never distract from the two people’s conversation, making the compositions glow though his unique eye for lighting and use of colour. He makes an extremely difficult mise en scène look simply spectacular, saving his trickery and flashiness appropriately for the final scenes of the film.

And it’s the final scenes of the film that are going to have everyone wondering what the film is all about. Are Lang and Fang the same woman? Or are they just representations of two opposite ideals – the whore and the virgin? Don’t expect any easy answers – this is very much an arthouse production in style, in script, in lack of a conventional plot and in the obscure and open ending. It is a fascinating film, a beautiful film, whose message simply seems to be to look below the surface – the way the leaves in green tea fall is always different. Sometimes leaves rise to the surface, sometimes they don’t – and people are also different, showing different sides of their personality, showing subtle variations and graduations and constantly growing and changing.

Green Tea, like I Love You is available on DVD in mainland China. Again, the DVD is quite basic and non-anamorphic, but is PAL and Region Free. It is also incredibly inexpensive. It is available from the YesAsia link on this page for about £5.00.

The image is letterboxed to 1.85:1, non-anamorphic, but this is not really a problem, as with a PAL picture it can be zoomed to widescreen without much loss of resolution. The actual transfer is good – strong colours and superb lighting all contribute to making the film look marvellous. The use of frequent close-ups - very close-up shots sometimes – helps the image look very strong, with minor jagged edges only visible in zoom-mode on wider shots. There are a few marks on the actual print and some encoding and compression artefacts can be seen if examined closely in a couple of scenes, but on the whole it is very clear and sharp. Blacks are somewhat flat and lacking in detail, but strong and deep in contrast.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound is superb – possibly the best and most inventive use of surround speakers I have ever heard, the sound designer Wu Lala, like Christopher Doyle, rising to the challenge of a difficult mise en scène with spectacular yet subtle results. The centre speaker is used well, drawing the viewer into an intimate conversation between two people, and echoing the sound outward when in a more open environment. This has been extremely well presented on the DVD.

The English subtitles are generally good – only one or two minor oddities of construction or grammar, but they read very well indeed. Even better, they remain within the 1.85:1 frame and are not cut off if the picture is zoomed into widescreen.

A couple of trailers are the only extras on the DVD, one for an action film, one for a comedy starring Vicki Zhao, looking more like her character in Shaolin Soccer. I’ve no idea what the films are as all menus and titles on the DVD are in Chinese.

Green Tea is a very different film for Zhang Yuan - it’s all unquestionably arty and might not make a lot of sense, but it is a fascinating treatment of a theme with absolutely stunning photography and sound. The DVD is rather basic, but presents the film well.

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