Monday, December 15, 2008

"The Equation of Love and Death" review (2)

Zhou Xun plays Li Mi, a plucky Kunming cab driver secretly nursing a broken heart and obsession—the man she loved disappeared
four years ago and their one-way line of communication are the letters that he writes to her, which she religiously stores and memorizes. Caught between faith and desperation, nothing, it seems, will reunite Li Mi with her old flame.

Then Li Mi takes on a fateful fare: two shifty migrants that have something to hide. Many convenient coincidences later, in a plot invovling hostage-taking, extortion, drug mules, mistaken identities, and changed identities, and Li Mi just might be close to finding her missing lover and closing the door on that part of her life.

It is in the nature of these films to rely on coincidences and other deus-ex-machina elements to move the plot forward—it doesn't matter that they aren't realistic, because movies aren't based on probability theory in the first place. However, you sometimes wish that there could be a bit more judgment exercised as to when enough is enough and it's time for you to sober up and go home. The tangled skein of the plot does get unraveled by the end, but as enjoyable as it is to know (almost) everything that transpired in this movie universe, there in a sense in which presenting all the facts makes the film seem too pat, too clever. It would have been better to leave the audience some unsettling loose-ends to quibble over.

As far as performances go, Zhou Xun, as Li Mi, is obviously the center of the film. She has plenty of good moments and a few maudlin ones, but otherwise manages to carry the film. Variety seems to concur:

Pic is motored by another saturated perf from the remarkable, throaty-voiced Zhou, who's ably partnered from the halfway mark by Zhang (the lead in the big-budget war drama "Assembly") as the tough but fair cop. Deng, also from "Assembly," is fine as the slippery Ma/Fang.

However, there was one performance bothered us a bit, which was that of Wang Baoqiang's, the young actor that has become quite popular in China for his small but often memorable roles in films, ranging from A World Without Thieves to Li Yang's Blind Shaft, as well as
the main role in the hit TV series Soldier Sortie. What tends to grate is the fact that he plays similar roles in so many of the movies:the innocent, hapless migrant worker. It was, in his earlier films, somewhat endearing. No matter what side of the law he was on, he was always the victim and the hero—he represented the pure heart of inner China, the migrants who can no longer make (or want to make) a living off the land and are forced to the move to seamy underbelly of Chinese cities, a moral vacuums where dodgy characters operate and manipulate them. Wang's performance is not bad as it goes, but you wonder whether or not the guy, barely twenty-five years old, has already been typecast.

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