The FilmAs the form of the cinematic thriller has developed over the last 100 years, the key focus of such films has shifted from finding the culprit to understanding what caused the crime at hand. From Lang's M where the irresistible momentum to stop the child killer leads us to a criminal lynch mob to Hitchcock's thrillers of the psyche, cinema has forced us to consider not just the aberrant outside but the murderer in us all. With recent Scandinavian miserabilism, this tendency has exacerbated - drawing our attention to the way our cruel world works and away from easy villains and simple victims.Ye Lou's Mystery is an intriguing modern thriller from China that delivers both the classic whodunnit and some exploration of the sociological crimes that cause the death of a young student on her way home to her mother. The film reveals the mechanism behind these events, the lives of the people who take part in them, and, by extension, illustrates their modern existence with its peculiar miseries and joys.
We begin with nouveau riche youths racing their flash cars in the pouring rain and hitting our victim at some speed. They leave their cars and rue the mess they find themselves in, kicking their inferior victim and screaming at how unfair it all is as she expires beneath them. After their arrest, they rely on their influential fathers to rescue them and a weak cop to find a convenient way out. Some time earlier that day, a middle class mum met with a poorer counterpart to counsel her, only to witness her own husband taking our victim for afternoon delight. She chases this young woman, before later returning shaken, and with her life in ruins, to the family home. Meanwhile, the victim's mother and her former lover will look to the cop for justice.As these people's lives are examined, all sorts of truths are revealed and a picture of modern urban Chinese life is created. We get scenes of retail therapy, westernised night life and the continuing motif of Beethoven's Ode to Joy presented in various Chinese forms. Within this is an examination of the place of women - the young student preyed upon by the married man, her mother who takes blood money as recompense for her lost child, the comfortable middle class woman who will forgive hubby's affairs up to a point, and the second mistress whose "happiness" is capturing her "weak" man when he falls.
This is not done didactically or with excessive emphasis, but with great subtlety and sympathy. The analysis of gender is also supported by one of status. Other characters include a homeless man who lives off rubbish and is easily dispensed with when he becomes an issue for his social betters, and the former lover of our victim who becomes the conscience of the piece and essential to the final act (someone who can initially be easily ignored). That final act is a particular triumph as we end with some intimations of a grand plan coming to fruition, a pointed comeuppance for one character, but leaves a huge question mark hovering over justice for the victim. I thought this was a quite magnificent film and an intriguing example of modern Chinese cinema. Far from inaccessible, Ye Lou's film offers a depth that you can take or leave whilst enjoying the basic thriller elements of whodunnit, or a richer experience appealing to those of us who like to use the word "Weltanschauung" whilst sipping our pretentious coffee.
The FilmArtificial Eye bring this cracking film to our shores on DVD with a dual layer region B encoded disc. Sadly, there are no extras and the only real extravagance is the inclusion of a strong 5.1 mix amongst the audio options. For a film that is so regularly accompanied by music and contains few if any effects, the surround mix really only offers coverage rather than a 3-D soundscape which would have been quite inappropriate for such a drama. In addition, there is a good stereo track and the subtitles are removable through your remote if not the menu.The transfer of this conventionally shot film is rather wonderfully natural looking, with no real obvious tinkering with edges or filtering and a nice dusting of grain throughout. Colours are kept within the muted urban look of the film and black levels are judicious in a very nice sympathetic transfer.
SummaryCracking film from the director of the fine Suzhou River. An excellent transfer with 5.1 sound are the key pluses of this Artificial Eye release.
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