Dreams Meet Reality

In Chinese film, as in Hollywood, ambition and nuance seldom keep company. The mainland's best-known directors are masters of the kind of movies that critics call "epic" when they succeed and "overwrought" when they fail, films that swamp our eyes and yank at our hearts. Cinematographer Gu Changwei has shot many of Chinese cinema's most imperial tours de force—Zhang Yimou's Red Sorghum and Ju Dou, Chen Kaige's Farewell My Concubine, Jiang Wen's Devils at the Doorstep. But his directorial debut Peacock, surprise winner of the Silver Bear at this year's Berlin International Film Festival, is a bird of a far less...

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