Inspired by but not a copy of Hitchcock's "Vertigo," the Chinese film "Suzhou River" follows an enigmatic young Shanghai motorcycle messenger on his own story of love, loss and obsession.
By JOSHUA TANZER
At the beginning of the underground-Shanghai thriller "Suzhou River," we hear a female voice in the dark ask a man, "If I went away one day and didn't come back, would you search for me? Would you search forever, until the day you die?"
It's more than an idle question, as we come to see. Those who've seen "Vertigo" will recognize much of what follows as a gritty Chinese version of the Hitchcock classic about a man's obsessive search for a woman he lost.
|Original title: 蘇州河.|
Written and directed by: Lou Ye.
Cast: Zhou Xun, Jia Hongsheng, Hua Zhingkai, Nai An, Yao Anilian.
Cinematography: Wang Yu.
In Mandarin with English subtitles.
209 West Houston St. (between 6th and 7th Ave.)
In this case, the man is not Jimmy Stewart but a Shanghai motorcycle messenger named Mardar, who does wrong to his pretty young girlfriend Moudan and then watches her tumble from a bridge and disappear in the muddy water below. Dejected, he does time in jail and then moves to another city. End of story?
Well, no. One day the messenger comes back to town and spots a woman who looks exactly like his lost love, doing an erotic mermaid act in a seedy burlesque bar. She insists he's got the wrong woman but he won't leave her alone. Is this the story of a great love or a twisted and dangerous obsession?
The first half of this movie is an obvious imitation of "Vertigo" right down to the adapted Bernard Herrmann music but it always feels fresh and original in spirit. One eerily interesting touch is the B-movie-style (or, as we'd say these days, Hong Kong-style) deadpan voiceover that starts the film. This impersonal narrator refuses to be kept in the background but never comes in front of the camera either. Soon, we recognize the camera as the eyes and ears of the narrator and he begins (or we begin) to have a role in the drama too.
"Suzhou River" is much more than a simple hommage to Hitchcock, as much as it may owe to its predecessor. The film has the spirit of cutting-edge Chinese or Hong Kong cinema, intriguing and realistic modern-day characters and its own surprise ending. It's a thrilling update on the master of suspense.
|NOVEMBER 20, 2000|
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