The eyes have it in this Chinese thriller about a voyeuristic young cop's obsession with a beautiful ophthalmologist he has under surveillance. Despite the sexually suggestive trappings, well-crafted pic never turns creepy or unsettling. Rather, helmer Wu Tiange explores a fragile intimacy between male "watcher" and female "watched."

The eyes have it in this Chinese thriller about a voyeuristic young cop’s obsession with a beautiful ophthalmologist he has under surveillance. Despite the sexually suggestive trappings, well-crafted pic never turns creepy or unsettling. Rather, helmer Wu Tiange explores a fragile intimacy between male “watcher” and female “watched.” High production values, standout perfs and unexpectedly wholesome twist on generally perverse genre should help this Shanghai studio outing on home turf and rep commercial Chinese cinema impressively at fests. But pic comes off as too discreetly mainstream to generate much arthouse buzz.

Detective Guo Qiang (Wang Xuebing) lives alone in an apartment cluttered with takeout cartons and photographic equipment, blowups of his current suspects the only decor. He has told everyone he has a wife and kids in an attempt to appear normal but, in fact, he has no life outside work.

The object of the detective’s growing fascination, Lu Hanqing (Wang Ji) is under surveillance because a former lover is on the lam for fraud and the cops figure he will show up sooner or later.

As it turns out, it’s sooner. In one of pic’s best action scenes, Lu, summoned by a phone call, waits at a subway station when she spots her middle-aged ex-paramour on the opposite platform just as he is jumped by an attacker, the ensuing fight, partly obscured, spilling over into cars of passing trains. Ultimately, Lu’s nasty b.f. figures only tangentially as a structuring device for Guo and Lu as they advance and retreat around their growing mutual attraction.

At first exasperated by the young cop following her, Lu confronts Guo and threatens to call the police only to learn he is the police. Lu playfully joins or outflanks the detective, at one point thrusting a heavy jacket and a hot drink at him as he shivers beneath her window.

Pic’s moral niceties never become cloying. Wang Ji (“Blush”) infuses her quasi-maternal, vaguely sexual attraction to Guo with elegance and warmth, blunting suspicion of sexual deviance without blanding it out. Similarly, Wang Xuebing’s engaging vulnerability retains a bit of perversity while equating voyeurism with shyness. Both look like paragons of selfless devotion next to the larcenous boyfriend, who engineers pic’s tragic curtain-closer.

Helmer Wu artfully has the audience, as well as Guo and Lu, trying to decipher visual fragments. Some of the tricks include follow-the-leader tracking shots, flickering lights and mysterious figures in the window, a la Hitchcock, with occasional video replays adding a postmodern touch.

Tech credits are uniformly excellent; Zhu Dongrong’s crisp lensing, Ding Jainxin’s spare, efficient editing and Su Junjie’s lush score all working handsomely.

Warm Winter

China

Production

A Shanghai Film Studio production. Produced by Zhu Yongde. Executive producer, Xu Pengle. Directed by Wu Tiange. Screenplay, Xi Yang.

Crew

Camera (color), Zhu Dongrong; editor, Ding Jainxin; music, Su Junjie. Reviewed at New York Asian American Film Festival, June 29, 2003. Running time: 96 MIN.

With

Wang Xuebing, Wang Ji, Ding Jiayuan. (Mandarin dialogue)
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