“Your destiny is in your own hands.”
The story in Zhou Yu’s Train is quite simple–a young woman, Zhou Yu (Gong Li) who paints porcelain for a living meets and falls in love with a poet, Chen Ching (Tony Leung). He lives in a remote part of the country so she insists on traveling via the train to see him twice a week. On one of her journeys, she meets a veterinarian, Zhang, who pursues her.
The plot is made far more complicated by the fact that the film skips back and forth in time, and that a fourth character–a former lover of Chen Ching’s is also played by Gong Li (with short hair). I thought this fourth character was just an older Zhou Yu looking back on her life. Gong Li playing both roles–with no explanation–was extremely confusing.
It takes patience and a commitment on the part of the viewer to reach the film’s conclusion, and just at that moment, it all begins to make sense (if you haven’t already given up). And the unnecessary complications are quite unfortunate, for Zhou Yu’s Train really is a stunningly beautiful film. It is only at the film’s conclusion that one wonders exactly why Zhou Yu travels on the train–even when she no longer has a reason to do so. There are hints from her memories that train travel means far more to her than just going from point A to point B, and the train journey is more important than the destination. Zhou Yu’s hopeless love and obsession for Chen Ching is echoed by Zhang’s hopeless love for Zhou Yu. Love isn’t inherently sensible, and some lovers are destined to only be second best.