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Saturday, Dec. 30, 2000

Down by the Suzhou, I lost my baby

The grand-prize winner of FILMeX's competition -- Chinese director Lou Ye's mesmerizing "Suzhou River" -- was no surprise. With a nod to Hitchcock's "Vertigo," "Suzhou River" tells a story of doomed romance and doppelgangers.

The film's narrator, an unnamed video cameraman, is in love with Meimei (Zhou Xun), a bar-girl who does an erotic "mermaid" act in a nightclub. Their lives are disrupted, though, when another man arrives on the scene, claiming that Meimei is actually his long-lost love Moudan, who killed herself by jumping into the Suzhou after he betrayed her. Local rumor has it that a "mermaid" inhabits the Suzhou. Coincidence?

A chat with Lou revealed that the film was shot on 16-mm film in a mere 25 days, and that its rough-and-ready hand-held camera style owes less to the trendy Dogma '95 movement than to budgetary restrictions.

"I can't imagine why a director would shoot under such limitations if he had the resources to do more," said Lou.

While acknowledging the lift from Hitchcock, Lou admitted a greater affinity to Michelangelo Antonioni, particularly "Blow Up," and its emphasis on the mediating role of the camera lens.

"Unlike Hitchcock, my film makes you very aware of the camera," said Lou. "Usually the director is somewhere safe, offscreen, but in this film [through the narrator] he is within the action, experiencing it and sharing the exact same emotions as the viewer."

The film's focus on the streets of Shanghai, with gangster kidnappings and seedy nightclubs, is not the sort of view that the Chinese censors usually permit.

"There were no problems this time," Lou said, "but it depends how far you want to push it. Actually, though, the film hasn't opened in China yet, so who knows?"

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