Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"The Equation of Love and Death" review (3)

Life is made up of a string of coincidences. Some coincidences are fortunate. Some are not. When time and space put us at the same street corner, you and I, aware that we're both at the mercy of vagary and whimsical changes, could at least be nice to each other: "Hello, I didn't know you were here."

Cao Baoping's new film, the Equation of Love and Death, was a story of youth and love, of trust, expectations and betrayal. Built around six insignificant people in Kunming, the story was as much heartbreaking as hauntingly beautiful. Li Mi (Zhou Xun), a female taxi-driver in her late twenties, has been looking for her missing boyfriend for four years. We didn't know why he was missing. We didn't know what happened four years ago. All we knew was a girl who was waiting, without knowing what she was waiting for. The movie began with an honest, point-blank shot of her face: as freckles and aging spots have crept over her pale, still delicate-looking skin. They were signs wrought not so much by time, but by welling sadness. She was sad, so much so that offering a dash of hope would only heighten her anguish. But she wasn't aware of it, as she sat behind the wheel, with a lighting cigarette between her fingers, fuming at his disappearance, "I just have to find him, and say it out loud, 'Why don't you go screw yourself?!'"

Being a taxi driver is not an easy calling, particularly not easy for a girl. It means long shifts, meeting strangers who can be dangerous, driving to unfamiliar places, changing tires when emergency requires, tricky weather, back pain, and meaningless, aimless, empty hours. But she had to find him. She handed pictures of him to everyone who came in her car. "Have you seen this man before?" She paused, only to be let down, time after time. It kept the audience wondering. Was it really worth it? It must be some motivation that kept this girl waiting, after times and times of disappointment, isn't it? Or could it be simply---love? The 54 letters she received from him, which told her how he was doing, his good and bad days, his little thoughts of murmuring, his worries and pains, the chronicled details of his life, were the evidence that love existed.

Here comes the larger truth that hides beneath the glossy, sophisticated surface of urban living, that is, distanced intimacy. We could live in the same city without seeing or knowing each others' existence. Or worse, we could know that someone is here. But we simply couldn't find him. Turning a street corner we might meet, or more often we drift apart, missing each other in our silent footsteps and vanishing, ephemeral shadows. Life has to go on. It is filled with numerous purposes, just as our heads are stuffed with information and our blackberries brim with messages, phone calls and email requests. As long as it continues, we believe, it will bring us closer to the things we want.

It is with these motivations that the other two characters come in the picture. Qiu Huogui and Qiu Shuitian, two peasant workers from Sichuan, gulped down 70 packs of heroine to traffic them to Guangzhou. As a reward they will respectively receive 30,000 and 10,000 kuai, both finding it gratifying. For Qiu Huogui, it was enough money for him to go home and start a new life. For Qiu Shuitian, he needed the money to obtain approval from his girlfriend's mother. The movie did not limit itself to personal relationships and struggles, but sketched them against a wider backdrop of social problems: drug-trafficking, prevalent coal mines, prostitution in the countryside, abuse of power, etc., as rendered through the mouths of two watchful, yet unknowing peasants, who were both consumed with their self-interests. They were doing things in the name of love. But to love they must hurt someone first. And as long as they don't see the damage, they're fine. Those who bring drugs won't see the people who suffer, just as those who add melamine in diluted milk won't see the babies who die from drinking it. The causal connection between act and harm was re-interpreted by the law of randomness. It highlights a gaping reality in current Chinese society: When profit beckons, there simply isn't enough mercy lying around.

Zhou Xun is at her best in this movie. Young, fragile, petulant yet hopelessly romantic. Her heartbreak near the end of the movie was as devastating to her as to the audience. She was known for portraying women of intelligence, spirit and equitable beauty. But in this movie she was a quintessential nobody, and her performance showed that she really understood her. She laughed and cried with her. The city of Kunming through the director's lens was a place of sentiments and memory, rich with blue-greenish color tones and eternally humid air. A must-see for 2008.

Source: http://age-ov-innocence.blogspot.com/2008/11/equation-of-love-and-death-movie-review.html

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