film censors often seem to get rather acute cases of “approver’s remorse.” After allowing Lou Ye to screen his latest
film at Cannes (to general acclaim) they suddenly demanded the director edit two“violent” scenes before allowing his film a Mainland theatrical release. Considering several of Lou’s films have been
banned outright in China and the filmmaker has openly defied a state imposed
five year filmmaking prohibition in the past, this arguably represents
progress. As with his previous work, the Party bureaucrats are protecting the
public from an excellent film. New
Yorkers can judge for themselves when Lou’s Mystery
today at the 2013 New York Asian Film Festival.
most of contemporary China, the industrial city of Wuhan is sharply divided between
the have’s and the have-not’s. In the
opening scene, a reckless group of have’s runs over a woman. Their first
response is neither compassion nor remorse.
Hold that thought. Lou will
return to the woman on the motorway in due time. However, he abruptly shifts his focus to
Yongzhao, who is striving to become one of the have’s. As a result, he works late hours, leaving his
wife Lu Jie to care for their endearing young daughter, An-an.
day after school, Lu Jie is asked out on a playdate by Sang Qi. She is not particularly keen to get to know
the woman, but An-an clearly gets on with the woman’s son like two peas in a
pod. Reluctantly agreeing to subsequently meet the woman for lunch, Lu Jie is
rather uncomfortable when Sang Qi asks for advice on how to handle her cheating
husband. At that moment, Lu Jie observes
her husband across the street, entering a hotel with a woman who is most
definitely not herself.
do play a role in Mystery, but many
things happen for reasons not immediately apparent. Indeed, the police investigation of the
opening incident will ultimately involve several of the film’s primary
characters. These cases are called crimes of passion, correct?
the past Lou has addressed topics like homosexuality and Tiananmen Square,
which are absolutely radioactive as far as Party bureaucrats are
concerned. Mystery implies much about contemporary China’s growing class
inequities and the collapse of traditional values, but as an ostensive film
noir, it is obviously much less controversial. Domestic critics have often unfairly
rapped Lou for his supposed Euro-art house style, but in this case viewers can
sort of see it. One might more readily
compare his latest to Louis Malle’s Damage
than Lou’s Digital Generation-esque Spring Fever.
star of Lou’s Summer Palace (a tragic
love story bound up in the Tiananmen Square protests that went over with the
censors like a lead balloon), Hao Lei is scary good as Lu Jie. She takes the audience on quite a ride with
her character’s arc of development, vividly illustrating what “a woman scorned”
means. Likewise, Qi Xi plays the
seemingly naïve Sang Qi with surprising subtly and power. Keep your eyes on them both.
Without question, Mystery is a film for mature adults. While there are exponentially
more violent films at this year’s fest, Lou presents the occasional outbreaks
in disturbingly intimate terms. Taut and sophisticated, Mystery amply rewards viewers who indulgence its plot
contrivances. An important new work from
a truly independent filmmaker and an accomplished cast, Mystery is very highly recommended when it screens tonight (7/3)
and next Thursday afternoon (7/11) at the Walter Reade Theater, as part of this
year’s New York Asian Film Festival.
Labels: Chinese Cinema, Lou Ye, NYAFF '13