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  Suzhou River  
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Zhou Xun
Chinese: 蘇州河
  Year: 2000  
  Director: Lou Ye  
  Producer: Takashi Asai, Philippe Bober, Jian Wei-Han, Susanne Martin, Nai An  
  Cast: Zhou Xun, Jia Hong-Sheng, Hua Zhong-Kai, Yao An-Lin, Nai An
 
The Skinny: Often referred to as the "Chinese Vertigo," Suzhou River is a gritty neo-noir from the mind of writer/director Lou Ye that has just enough twists and turns to stand apart from Hitchcock's preceding film.
 
Review by Calvin McMillin:

"If I leave you someday," the beautiful Meimei (Zhou Xun) asks via voiceover, "would you look for me?" Thus begins Suzhou River, a Shanghai-set film noir from Chinese auteur Lou Ye. As it turns out, these opening lines are the crux of Suzhou River's twisty plot, a meditation on the desperate, seemingly endless search for true love in the cruel, dark world of contemporary society.

The film's narrator, unseen and unnamed, tells Suzhou River's jumpy, dream-like tale. As a world-weary freelance videographer, the narrator makes a deal with the owner of a local bar to make a video of the joint's mermaid show. The show features the aforementioned Meimei, a rebellious knockout who, as part of her Daryl Hannah routine, dons a blond wig and an orange fishtail. Naturally, the videographer falls madly in love with Meimei, but soon learns of her the sad life from a second man, Mardar (Jia Hongsheng).

Combining Meimei's facts with a healthy bit of guesswork, the narrator reconstructs for the audience the story of the mysterious Mardar. He tells us that Mardar was a dropout who worked as a motorcycle courier to make ends meet. It was in this capacity that he met a pretty girl named Moudan. With her pigtails and elfin grin, Moudan is the prototype for wide-eyed innocence. The plot thickens when we find that Moudan, who's the complete antithesis of the jaded Meimei, is played by the very same actress, Zhou Xun.

But just as this love story begins to take off, the narrator adds new details about the stoic Mardar. In truth, Mardar is involved in a life of crime, and it is not long before his gangland employers, Lao B. and Xiao Ho, order him to kidnap Moudan to make a quick buck. Mardar complies with their wishes, an act of betrayal that so traumatizes Moudan that she escapes from her lover/captor and plunges - mermaid doll in hand, mind you - into the murky waters of the Suzhou River.

We leave the scene with Moudan presumed dead and Mardar on his way to jail. When the narrative returns to the present time period, Mardar is fresh out of jail after having served time for his hand in the kidnapping. Here, the story makes an interesting shift: the unseen narrator gives up his role and hands it to Mardar, who becomes the de-facto narrator for most of the film hence. From this point, Mardar spins a yarn of how he met and became enthralled with Meimei, herself a dead ringer for his long-lost Moudan. After that, things get just a tad bit weirder.

Is Meimei actually Moudan, or isn't she? That's the big question of Suzhou River, and to be honest, the surprising answer will leave some audience members puzzled and perhaps dissatisfied. That's part of the problem with having such a clever narrative gimmick: once you reveal who's who, somebody's going to be disappointed. But to her credit, Zhou Xun plays her scenes as Meimei superbly, leaving just enough in her performance to convince half the crowd that she's the resurrected Moudan and the other half that she's a total sham. In the end, it matters little if Meimei is Moudan or if Mardar ever finds his true love. Lou Ye's Suzhou River should be thought of not in terms of how it ends, but how it develops. Ultimately, the film resonates in its echoing of that oh-so-popular aphorism about life: it's the journey, not the destination. (Calvin McMillin, 2002)

 
 
Awards: 2002 Fantasporto
• Critics' Award (Lou Ye)
2000 Paris Film Festival
• Best Actress (Zhou Xun)
• Grand Prix
2000 Rotterdam International Film Festival
• Tiger Award (Lou Ye)
2000 Viennale
• FIPRESCI Award (Lou Ye)
• For its realistic and documentary approach to thriller conventions, and its expressive use of narrative and cinematic structure.
 
Availability:

DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Winson
Widescreen
Mandarin Language Track
Dolby Digital 2.0
English and Chinese Subtitles

 
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