×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Venice Film Review: ‘Trap Street’

Vivian Qu makes a well-lensed but dramatically underpowered debut with this low-key noir.

With:

Lu Yulai, He Wenchao, Hou Yong, Zhao Xiaofei, Xiang Qun, Liu Tiejian, Li Xinghong, Liu Tong, Feng Shijie, Wang Jiao, Jin Liao, Sun Si, Ma Guoha, Li Youliang.

Shady activities and everyday injustices perpetrated by the Chinese government are given a mostly listless look-see in “Trap Street,” a well-lensed but dramatically underpowered writing-directing effort from mainland producer Vivian Qu (“Night Train,” “Knitting”). Hinting at a world of secrecy and intrigue lurking just behind official barriers, this blend of Nanjing-shot noir adopts a low-boil observational approach to the tale of a naive Chinese teenager whose flirtation with a mysterious young woman leads him into hot water, striking an uneasy balance of restrained realism and standard crime-story elements. Still, artful digital cinematography and fine performances augur well for Qu’s future efforts after this one has made its way through the usual festival channels.

The title refers to an old cartographer’s trick of drawing a road that does not exist, thereby protecting their work from theft should the “trap street” appear on competing maps. Qu’s film cleverly inverts the meaning of the term, repeatedly circling a side street, Forest Lane, that does exist, but that suspiciously never appears on any official maps of the area. Young Li Quiming (Lu Yulai) soon discovers this during his part-time work as a surveyor for a digital mapping company, a job that requires him and his co-workers to drive around and keep their systems up to date by taking photos of the continually shifting city. (Heightening the general atmosphere of surveillance and paranoia, Quiming also has a job installing security cameras.)

Early on Quiming has a chance encounter with Guan Lifen (He Wenchao), an attractive, well-dressed young woman to whom he gives a lift one night; the next day, he finds her business-card holder in his backseat and takes it upon himself to return it. When it develops that Lifen works at a building on the undocumented Forest Lane, Quiming’s interest and libido are both piqued, and the two slowly begin a relationship that will clearly lead them down a dark road or two of their own.

Attractively shot on HD by cinematographers Tian Li and Matthieu Laclau, “Trap Street” has a low-key perceptiveness, an eye for narrative digressions that often prove more compelling, or at least diverting, than the story itself. In scenes of Quiming and Lifen riding bumper cars or casually dancing at a party, the film pulses with a sweet, youthful energy that works despite the inherent implausibility of these two individuals getting together — an implausiblity that the plot will presumably dispel at a certain point, but never does. Qu sticks closely to Qiuming’s perspective, revealing only what he sees and following him into a situation that eventually takes a nightmarish turn, but leaving hidden the full shape of whatever conspiracy he has inadvertently stumbled on.

There’s something to be said for Qu’s scrupulous avoidance of easy explanations or trumped-up melodrama; in one sense, the understated menace of Lifen’s supervisor (an excellent Liu Tiejian), smiling and faux-avuncular on the two very different occasions Qiuming meets him, tells us all we need to know. The notion that any unsuspecting, unexceptional young person could find him- or herself in Qiuming’s position comes across clearly enough in this deliberately modest, uninflected portrait of China in the information age, but the suggestion that there are countless such stories out there has the inevitable effect of dissipating the viewer’s interest in this particular example.

Lu is fine as the overly passive protagonist, while He (a filmmaker in her own right, having directed, written and edited 2012’s “Sweet Eighteen”) does a lot with a little in the quietly reserved femme-fatale role, drawing on the viewer’s sympathy, wariness and curiosity.

Venice Film Review: 'Trap Street'

Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Critics' Week), Sept. 1, 2013. (Also in Toronto Film Festival — Discovery.) Running time: 93 MIN. Original title: "Shuiyin jie"

Production:

(China) A 22 Hours Films production. (International sales: 22 Hours Films, Beijing.) Produced by Sean Chen. Executive producers, Ying Hua, Chen.

Crew:

Directed, written by Vivian Qu. Camera (color, HD), Tian Li, Matthieu Laclau; editor, Yang Hongyu; art director, Liu Qiang; sound, Zhang Yang; visual effects, Zhouren (Beijing) Culture Communication Co.; assistant directors, Ji Jiatong, Diao Dingcheng, Meng Huohuo, Xia Hao.

With:

Lu Yulai, He Wenchao, Hou Yong, Zhao Xiaofei, Xiang Qun, Liu Tiejian, Li Xinghong, Liu Tong, Feng Shijie, Wang Jiao, Jin Liao, Sun Si, Ma Guoha, Li Youliang.

More Film

  • '2019 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Live

    Film Review: ‘2019 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Live Action’

    The Academy skewed dark in its choice of live-action shorts this year, selecting four films to slit your wrists by — each one featuring child endangerment in a different form — and a fifth, about a diabetic on her death bed, that finds a glimmer of uplift at the other end of life. If that [...]

  • How the 'Rich Eisen Show' Mixes

    How the 'Rich Eisen Show' Mixes Sports and Showbiz in an Entertaining Mix

    Walking through the El Segundo studio where veteran sportscaster Rich Eisen tapes his daily “Rich Eisen Show,” the sheer density of sports memorabilia is overwhelming — everything from game balls to jerseys, gear, autographs and uncountable photos are crammed onto every inch of wall and desk space. But step into Eisen’s dressing room, and the [...]

  • Yorgos Lanthimos

    Film News Roundup: 'The Favourite' Director Yorgos Lanthimos Boards Crime Drama

    In today’s film news roundup, Yorgos Lanthimos has set up a crime drama, “Here Lies Daniel Tate” is being adapted, and Donna Langley becomes a member of the USC film school board. DIRECTOR HIRED More Reviews Film Review: ‘2019 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Live Action’ TV Review: 'Whiskey Cavalier' “The Favourite” producer-director Yorgos Lanthimos has [...]

  • Brody Stevens Dead

    Comedian Brody Stevens Dies at 48

    Prominent Los Angeles comedian Brody Stevens died Friday in Los Angeles, Variety has confirmed. He was 48. “Brody was an inspiring voice who was a friend to many in the comedy community,” Stevens’ reps said in a statement. “He pushed creative boundaries and his passion for his work and his love of baseball were contagious. [...]

  • Contract Placeholder Business

    Hollywood Agents Blast Writers Guild Over New Proposals

    The war between the Writers Guild of America and Hollywood agents has escalated as the two sides battle over the rules on how writers are represented. The latest volley emerged Friday from Karen Stuart, executive director of the Association of Talent Agents, who accused WGA leaders of misleading its members and asserted that the guild [...]

  • Xavier Legrand Custody

    Cesar Awards: Xavier Legrand’s ‘Custody’ Wins Best Film

    Xavier Legrand’s feature debut “Custody,” a tense portrait of a family torn by domestic violence, won best film, actress (for Lea Drucker), and original screenplay at the 44th Cesar Awards, which took place at the Salle Pleyel in Paris. The awards are France’s highest film honors. “Custody,” which marks Legrand’s follow up to his Oscar-nominated [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    'Crazy Rich Asians,' 'Late Show With Stephen Colbert' Win Publicity Campaign Awards

    Hollywood publicists have selected “Crazy Rich Asians” as the top movie publicity campaign for 2018 and “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” as the best television campaign. Warner Bros.’ “Crazy Rich Asians” topped the campaigns for Disney’s “Black Panther,” Fox’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Paramount’s “A Quiet Place,” Sony’s “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” and Universal’s “Halloween” for [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content