It is a case of life imitating art or the
past repeating in the present or vice versa. The fates of a Jiang and a Hu are
deeply intertwined, but their ultimate destinies will be rather slippery to nail
down in Huang Yao’s Pleasure.Love, which screens during the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.
Bitterly disappointed his neighborhood
crush is suddenly unavailable, twenty-ish Jiang heads to a bar to drown his
sorrows. However, he somehow manages to pick-up Hu Yajie, an attractive older
professional woman who ought to be well outside his league. It does not take
Jiang long to fall for her, even though she initially regards him as merely an
amusing distraction. Unfortunately, just as she starts to develop feelings for the
young man, she is ripped away from him.
That was the “Pleasure” segment. For “Love,”
Huang flashes forward (or perhaps backwards) a few decades, just as the fresh
faced “Hu” arrives to pursue a career in the big city. Much to her surprise,
the misogynistic writer Jiang Nan takes an immediate interest in her. He gained
a bit of notoriety for his steamy novel based on his relationship with a lover
who died years ago and bequeathed her house to him (yes, we definitely
recognize it from before).
Pleasure.Love is one
of those Mobius strip films that eventually loop back into themselves, like
Milcho Manchevski’s Before the Rain.
Huang could have gotten away with it relatively cleanly, but he adds further
diagonal time lines that completely muddy any sense of internal logic.
As maddening as Pleasure.Love can be at times, it is still consistently
fascinating, especially for viewers familiar with Chinese cinema. Indeed, it is
rather shocking to see a major Mainland movie star like Yu Nan in such a sexual
frank film. Although there is no nudity per se, it is definitely mature in
terms of themes and content. Presumably she still has a lot of good will banked
from the PLA-supported Wolf Warrior.
She also gives an extraordinarily rich and
nuanced performance as the older Hu. Guo Xiaodong makes the older, deeply
flawed Jiang equally complex. Looking barely old enough to vote, Sun Yi is still
wonderfully sensitive and vulnerable as the young Hu, but Ying Daizhen is much
less so as the young Jiang.
question, Pleasure.Love is an
achingly handsome production. You have probably never heard such lovely
arrangements of “Auld Lang Syne.” Liu Younian’s gauzily romantic cinematography
is also a thing of beauty. In truth, the film holds considerable artistic
merit. Even though Huang gets a bit too cute with his temporal-narrative games,
there are individual moments in the film that are absolutely arresting. Recommended
for its overall look and wildly camera-friendly cast, Pleasure.Love screens again tomorrow (1/27) in Salt Lake and Friday
(1/29) in Park City, as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Labels: Chinese Cinema, Sundance '16, Yu Nan