Suzhou River (12)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner22/11/2000

Two stars out of five
Running time: 83 mins

Haunting tale of love, obsession, videotape and mermaids that doesn't quite come together.

An unseen videographer (Nai An) narrates the tale of Mardar (Jia Hongshen), a Shanghai motorcycle courier whose job involves driving Moudan, a mob boss' daughter (Zhou Xun) around the city. They fall in love, but then Mardar is asked to hold the girl for ransom. He agrees and goes through with it, but the girl is distraught and throws herself into the river of the title, asking Marden never to stop looking for her and vowing she'll return as a mermaid.

Some time later, Marden believes he has found her, only now she's calling herself Meimei (also played by Zhou Xun) and performing a nightclub act dressed as a mermaid. Not only that, but she happens to be the videographer's girlfriend.

Suzhou River has already been compared to Hitchcock's Vertigo, but to be honest, the comparison does it no favours. The only vaguely similar element is the mystery‚ as to whether Moudan is Meimei, and the conclusion is both unexpected (in a bad way) and very disappointing, particularly when weighed up against Hitchcock's classic. It has much more in common with the films of Wong Kar-Wai (Chungking Express, In The Mood For Love) in that it uses similar camerawork and has similarly enigmatic characters and narrators.

The film does have its good points. The photography is impressively atmospheric and Ye does well to imbue the disgustingly filthy Suzhou River with such mystic qualities. Xun, too, is superb in both parts, always seeming just somehow out of reach. However, the hand-held camerawork grates after a while, particularly during the scenes that the videographer doesn't witness.

It's true that at the end of the film, there are enough hints to suggest that the videographer is just bored and making it all up (this would at least excuse the camerawork). However, since we never really get to know the characters, we don't have enough of a reason to care. (Indeed, your dominant thought on leaving the cinema is likely to be a hankering for Buffalo Grass vodka, also featured in the film). If you're in the mood for a dose of Asian cinema, check out In The Mood For Love instead.

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Content updated: 23/10/2017 18:04

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