For aficionados who have discovered Taiwanese cinema through Hou Hsiao-hsien’s impressionistic family melodramas or Edward Yang’s cool, elegant tales of urban despair, Rouge of the North may come as a slight disappointment. Friends from Taiwan told me that Fred Tan is an important voice in their national cinema (having started as an influential film critic and directed two features before Rouge of the North), and indeed, the film—based on a beautifully written screenplay—is ambitious, but the quality is not as high as Western viewers of Taiwanese films will expect. Starting in Shanghai in 1910, the story spans 20 years in the life of a woman, Ying-ti (Shia Wen-shih)—from her forced marriage to a blind cripple to her later days as a domineering, opium-smoking matriarch. Beautifully shot in studio, the film unfolds in three separate locations: the heroine’s family home, where her beauty provokes the unwelcome attention of lusty neighbors as she silently pines for a young chemist too poor to propose to her; her husband’s family mansion, where she cohabits with a quarrelsome bunch of brothers- and sisters-in-law; and finally, the house she inherits after her husband’s death, where she rules her no-good son’s conjugal life with an iron hand.Rouge of the North, however, is not entirely successful. Something is missing, a je ne sais quoi that would restore some color to Ying-ti’s pallid face, give the movie a sense of the “”real life” longed for by the heroine, and establish the vulnerability of the woman behind the mask of the character.