2.5 stars out of 5
The Stars: Qin Hao, Chen Sicheng, Tan Zhuo
The Story: A seemingly happily married man (Wu Wei) has an affair with another man (Qin). His wife (Jiang Jiaqi) hires a private investigator and discovers the affair. The investigator (Chen Sicheng) then becomes intrigued by Qin, setting up an unlikely love triangle with his girlfriend (Tan Zhuo) getting involved.
The Buzz: So-called Sixth Generation director Lou Ye (Suzhou River, Summer Palace) delivers yet another controversial sexually charged film. This film was shot surreptitiously in Nanjing, in defiance of a five-year state ban following the government censure of Summer Palace. The film was shown, without mainland approval, in competition at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.
Lou Ye is known for astutely capturing the restlessness and fractured modern existences enclosed within China’s urban landscapes. He also doesn’t shy from tackling issues on identity, gender, sexuality and obsession.
All of these issues come into play in his latest work, one that will garner a lot of attention for its depiction of gay romance. There aren’t any particularly graphic sex scenes, but there are instances of cross-dressing and passionate kisses.
But that’s not the point of the film, really. The film is concerned with the unhappy lives of its characters as they struggle with their identities and their realities. The film starts out threatening to be a standard ‘stolen romance’ affair drama. The wife who finds out about it is enraged not that she’s being cheated on, but that the third party is a man.
Meanwhile, the third party holds a steady job and has kept his sexuality under wraps, having decided to find some stability in his life. The fallout of the affair puts his life in a spiral again.
As for the investigator and his girlfriend, their tenuous relationship reveals a disconnect from the ideal of young love – it is a highly impersonal romance. When he becomes obsessed with the third party, all rules and conventions start to fall apart.
Lou’s bleak film is an interesting one. The look is gritty and raw, with much hand-held camera work. To some, it will be emotional and heart-breaking. For others, like yours truly, the film is strikingly aloof. It comes off overlong and excessively exoticised by Lou’s hand. One enjoyed the development of a conventional love triangle being replaced by a dysfunctional and unlikely one, with typical identities and roles in flux.
Within all the turmoil, there is also a story of a man finding himself, finally at ease with who he is and what he wants in life. The problem is that the film keeps the audience at such a distance that emotional connection and empathy is difficult. By being elliptical, it runs the risk of losing the audience by the half-way mark. For this reviewer at least, it did.
Yong Shu Chiang, otherwise known as SC, is a freelance editor and writer. He reviewed movies for Juice magazine when he was in college, and was the resident film reviewer for Today Newspaper from 2003 to 2005. He has also reviewed movies for Prime Time Morning on Channel NewsAsia.