×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Mystery

An intriguingly lurid but oddly uninvolving tale of lust, deception, jealousy and murder that loses tension and credibility even as it springs twist after twist.

With:
With: Hao Lei, Qin Hao, Qi Xi, Zu Feng, Zhu Yawen, Chang Fangyuan, Qu Ying. (Mandarin dialogue)

Six years after angering Chinese censors with his sexually and politically raw Cannes entry “Summer Palace,” Lou Ye makes a shrug-worthy official return to mainland filmmaking with “Mystery.” An intriguingly lurid but oddly uninvolving tale of lust, deception, jealousy and murder that loses tension and credibility even as it springs twist after twist, this mopey potboiler reps a banal reminder of the stupidity of taking up with two hot-headed women simultaneously. Lou’s fans may be buoyed by the picture’s strong narrative thrust relative to his prior few outings, but not enough to make “Mystery” a must-see beyond fests.

Freed from a five-year filmmaking ban imposed by the Chinese government in response to 2006’s “Summer Palace,” Lou no longer seems interested in stirring controversy at home; apart from one or two plot points that briefly touch on China’s patriarchal tradition and one-child policy, this tortured triangle could be set more or less anywhere. And following the dramatic inertia of his two most recent projects, 2009’s stealth mainland project “Spring Fever” and last year’s Paris-set “Love and Bruises” (which could easily serve as the new film’s title), there are initially promising signs here of an invigorated filmmaker at the helm.

Opening with a brutal car accident set, like much of the picture, in an oppressively torrential downpour, “Mystery” winds backward in time to gradually but purposefully reveal the particulars of its convoluted premise. Lu Jie (Hao Lei, “Summer Palace”) has built a comfortable and seemingly happy life in Wuhan with her husband, Yongzhao (Qin Hao, “Spring Fever”), and their young daughter. But one afternoon, while visiting a cafe with her girlfriend Sang Qi (Qi Xi), Lu Jie spies Yongzhao leaving a nearby hotel accompanied by another woman, Xiaomin (Chang Fangyuan).

Following a silent pursuit and a quick cut to black that doesn’t bode well for anyone onscreen, Lu Jie begins a quiet campaign of manipulation and harassment in an attempt to force her husband’s dirty little secret out into the open. As the screenplay (by Mei Feng, Yu Fan and Lou) soon makes clear, Xiaomin isn’t the only other woman in Yongzhao’s life, sending an already overwrought story into a maelstrom of implied bigamy, blackmail, child endangerment, bone-crunching violence and punitive sex.

Working with d.p. Zeng Jian, Lou employs a characteristically rough, fragmented visual style marked by darting camerawork, jarring edits and an overall sense of physical disorientation, augmented by the use of multiple camera formats (mostly HD, but with some 35mm and limited DV as well). Yet rather than bringing the audience into deeper intimacy with the characters, the jangly aesthetic creates a distancing effect that only highlights the film’s preposterous narrative formulations, suggesting a watery soap opera in neorealist drag. Frankly, there’s more than one way to play this particular set of contrivances; given that this is the latest of Lou’s China-Gaul co-productions, “Mystery’s” two-timing plot almost begs to be remade as an upbeat French farce.

Doing their utmost to lend authenticity and ballast to the contrived scenario are the actors, chiefly Hao (“Summer Palace”) as an embittered wife who needn’t raise her voice in order to seem dangerously unhinged, and Qi as the friend who conceals secrets of her own beneath a seemingly kinder, more open manner. Sporting a thin mustache that completes his portrait of an unfaithful sleaze, Qin (“Spring Fever”) can’t do much with a character for whom pre-emptive castration would seem the only viable road to redemption.

Soundtrack is dominated by a continual ironic refrain of “Ode to Joy.” Despite the handheld look, the visuals look more polished than grungy, dotted with occasional scenic views of Wuhan. Most of the modest budget seems to have been spent on rain.

Mystery

China-France

Production: A Wild Bunch (in France) release of a Dream Author Pictures and Les Films du Lendemain presentation, in co-production with Arte France Cinema, with the participation of Arte France, in association with Wild Bunch. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Lou Ye, Chen Xi, Nai An, Kristina Larsen. Directed by Lou Ye. Screenplay, Mei Feng, Yu Fan, Lou; original story, Li Yongfang.

Crew: Camera (color, HD/35mm/DV), Zeng Jian; editor, Simon Jacquet; art directors, Peng Shaoying, Du Luxi; sound (Dolby Digital), Wang Gang; sound designer, Fu Kang; re-recording mixers, Wang, Ai Xia; visual effects supervisor, Josh Cole; associate producer, Li Ling; assistant directors, Gao Han, Shuang Zou. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard, opener), May 17, 2012. Running time: 98 MIN.

With: With: Hao Lei, Qin Hao, Qi Xi, Zu Feng, Zhu Yawen, Chang Fangyuan, Qu Ying. (Mandarin dialogue)

More Film

  • Halloween

    Movies Featured More Female Protagonists in 2018, But It's Not All Good News (Study)

    “Halloween,” “A Star is Born,” and “Crazy Rich Asians” made headlines for featuring strong roles for women, but even though the number of female film protagonists hit a high in 2018, the movie industry still offered its juiciest parts to men. At a time when Hollywood is under pressure to become more inclusive and is [...]

  • Colin Farrell Dumbo

    Colin Farrell To Star in Andrew Haigh's BBC Two Thriller 'The North Water'

    Colin Farrell is set to star in “The North Water,” the BBC Two thriller which will be directed by critically acclaimed filmmaker Andrew Haigh (“Lean on Pete”). Based on Ian McGuire’s novel, the four-part series is being adapted by Haigh and produced by See-Saw Films for BBC Two. More Reviews Film Review: Keira Knightley in [...]

  • New Fox Appoints Wayne Borg to

    New Fox Appoints Wayne Borg to Los Angeles Studio Role

    Wayne Borg, who has headed the Fox Studios Australia operations in Sydney for the past four years, has been appointed president and general manager of studios at New Fox. He will relocate from Australia to Los Angeles. Fox Studios Australia, which is to remain part of 21st Century Fox and will become part of Disney [...]

  • Lisa Borders Time's Up

    Time's Up President Lisa Borders Resigns

    Lisa Borders has resigned as president of Time’s Up, she and the organization announced on Monday. Borders is resigning due to family issues, she said in a statement. Time’s Up COO Rebecca Goldman will now serve as interim CEO. More Reviews Film Review: Keira Knightley in 'The Aftermath' Sundance Film Review: Stephen K. Bannon in [...]

  • Keira Knightly as "Rachael Morgan" in

    Film Review: Keira Knightley in 'The Aftermath'

    Less widely seen (and acclaimed) than it deserved to be, James Kent’s debut feature “Testament of Youth” was one of the great recent love-in-wartime dramas, translating the intimate romance and sprawling human tragedy of Vera Brittain’s WWI memoir with a grace and heft worthy of its David Lean allusions. Four years on, it’s not hard [...]

  • Inside Amazon's New Feature Film Strategy

    Amazon's New Film Strategy: Straight-to-Service Titles and Starry Sundance Buys

    It was close to midnight when Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke got the text. The company had failed in its quest to acquire “Brittany Runs a Marathon,” a body image dramedy that captivated Salke when she saw it at Sundance. A sales agent on the project messaged her to say that a competitor offered a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content