“His money is either spent on you or me”
Having already been banned from filmmaking in China twice, it’s no surprise director Lou Ye has refused to quell his appetites for highly sexualized, naturalistic tales of deceit and betrayal. His debut Weekend Lover had its release postponed two years by the government; 2000’s Suzhou River forced a mandatory two-year hiatus while the film itself remains banned; and 2006 saw a new five-year stall from Chinese production after submitting Summer Palace to Cannes without approval from the country’s censors. With all these political starts and stops due to controversial content, however, it’s good to note his work hasn’t been watered-down by fear or disregarded by the cinematic community at large. In fact, Lou’s latest 浮城謎事 [Mystery] deservedly won three Asian Film awards last year including Best Film.
Beginning with a darkened screen of pouring rain with two cars driven by reckless kids, the resulting fatal accident is hardly a surprise. As the cars exit a tunnel with a truck coming from the other direction, a young girl—bloodied and helpless—stands immobile in their path. Swung against the windshield before being thrown back to the street, only the coroner’s discovery of previous head trauma gives Detective Tong Mingsong (Zu Feng) pause as to the cause of her death. Once the kids’ identities lead to a desire for quickly laying the event to rest, we learn of the corrupt country’s greed and power versus the lack of options for those without. While a crucial piece to the puzzle, however, this crash is but one unraveling strand of the main plot’s adulterous affairs.
It’s later on that we discover when the accident actually occurs in the timeline of happy couple Lu Jie (Hao Lei) and Qiao Yongzhao’s (Qin Hao) life. He’s working hard while she stays home to raise their daughter An’An, a familial situation not unlike what a majority of Earth’s population endures. And as the girl befriends classmate Yuhang, so too do their mothers. What begins as conversation while at the playground turns to meeting for coffee with an air of mystery until Sang Qi (Qi Xi) spills the news that she suspects her husband is having an affair. Horrible for her, the situation is only exacerbated once she points towards a happy couple outside the window exiting a hotel to prove how no one meets at anonymous locales for anything but elicit activities.
This unsuspecting man on whom they spy happens to be Yongzhao. Desperate to understand—to hopefully discover an explanation for her husband to be caught in an embrace with another—Lu Jie finds herself following the mistress in what soon becomes a downpour eerily similar to the one at the start. From here it cuts to the next morning and the subsequent days as the truth to what’s occurring is gradually made visible to the distraught housewife. Yongzhao’s adulterous ways are found to span beyond just this girl Wenzi (Chang Fangyuan) and the connections between she, Lu Jie, and Sang Qi are revealed to be many and deep. Lou and his cowriters Feng Mei and Fan Yu proceed to introduce their dark themes of double lives, corruption, and love’s dual power to create and destroy.
Mystery‘s use of flashbacks and redacted information slowly showing itself as the film goes on keeps us on our toes to wonder how intertwined the aforementioned accident and Yongzhao’s life are. Was Wenzi simply just a one-night stand like he told the police? Was there foul play before she found herself on the wet road facing the lights of speeding cars? Will her ex-boyfriend Qin Feng’s (Zhu Yawen)—who is serendipitously a chum of Mingsong—amateur quest to find out exactly what happened bear fruit when the case is closed in the minds of the authorities and the deceased’s mother? These questions and more begin to flash through your mind as Lu Jie and Sang Qi’s lives start to overlap, culminating in a tell-all account of Wenzi’s demise and where its wake leaves the rest.
Yawen exudes the humanity no one else does with his fight to honor the woman he once loved becoming his sole priority while Feng’s policeman shows his defeated sense of compassion now left neutered due to a job more interested in politicking and favors than providing the truth. Their search for answers to Wenzi’s homicide cuts in and out to help infer on the familial strife unraveling alongside it—a triangle of deception that pushes its members to the brink of sanity. And Qin Hao infuses Yongzhao with an infinite wealth of sexual desire as well as a yearning to protect and nurture. He’s the one whose actions are a direct cause to everything that happens—the ill-advised amoral choices made years before and the current ones proving how greed isn’t only reserved for wealth.
But no matter Yongzhao’s treachery and resulting soul-ravaging guilt, Lou Ye’s tome truly hinges on the performances of Hao Lei and Qi Xi. The latter rightfully earned herself Best Newcomer at the Asian Film Awards with a turn built on pure emotion and desire to give her son the life he deserves—without regard for those she’d be taking it from. It’s a quasi-villainous role steeped in the same covetous nature as Yongzhao, opening up the secrets that will eventually drag them all down a rabbit hole of unforgivable choices. This doesn’t make Lei the hero of the tale, however, since in some respects she is even more vile than her counterpart. Enraged with jealousy, her reaction to Sang Qi’s maneuvering is all spite and vitriol until only one may remain standing.
courtesy of www.filmlinc.com