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With: Zhou Xun, Jia Hongsheng, Yao Anlian, Nai An, Hua Zhongkai
Written by: Lou Ye
Directed by: Lou Ye
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Mandarin with English subtitles
Running Time: 83
Date: 01/29/2000

Suzhou River (2000)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Muddy Waters

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Suzhou River is an appealing little show-off of a movie by a young first-timer practicing his licks. I had read about its similarities to Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai's work (Chungking Express, Fallen Angels) and to Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958), and indeed, it's hard not to think about them. But Suzhou River whizzes by at a tight 79 minutes, and the effort feels worthwhile.

The first section of Suzhou River is both seen and told from the point of view of a freelance videographer, whose face we never see. He meets and begins dating a woman named Meimei (Zhou Xun) who works as a blonde mermaid in a sleazy bar in Shanghai. Then the story shifts to a flashback about a motorcycle messenger named Mardar (Jia Hongsheng) who is assigned to take care of a girl called Moudan (also played by Zhou). They eventually fall in love. Mardar is then told to kidnap Moudan, who escapes and jumps off a bridge, vowing to return as a mermaid. Like Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo, Mardar becomes obsessed and finds it hard to believe that the blonde mermaid Meimei is not actually his dear Moudan.

In the absence of a huge budget, director Lou washes his movie in dirty rainfall, bare lightbulbs and colorful neon, giving it an eye-catching facade. Despite its nifty little dime-store plot, though, Suzhou River rarely dips any deeper. Yet I liked it for the same reasons I enjoy reading a Cornell Woolrich potboiler. Sometimes you just want a shallow story well told. Suzhou River is for those light-reading occasions.

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