Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 13, 2014 3:41 am 
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Romance in the world of total documentation

One of the beauties of Trap Street, a quietly auspicious debut by Chinese former producer Vivian Qu, is its genre-jumpiing. It begins as a rom-com with coming-of-age overtones, then moves into noir-thriller territory, and winds up with strong hints of ominous sociopolitical sci-fi. And it's all flowing and natural thanks to seamless storytelling and editing, handsome cinematography, and cast members who act their heads off, without the effort showing. There's plenty to think about afterwards in this fresh, subtle film that has Hitchcockian overtones with its trapped innocent man theme. The young but experienced star Lu Yulai is excellent here, and we can only hope to see more very soon from this new writer-director, Vivian Qu.

The very young Li Quiming (Lu Yulai) is working at several main jobs. He moonlights installing security cameras for a somewhat unsavory pal, and also at testing for bugs in hotel rooms. But his main gig is as a trainee for a private surveying company that tracks the ever-changing city. Quiming, whose mother (Xiang Qun) works in a mall stall and father (Zhao Xiaofei) is a woman's magazine editor, seems barely out of his teens. Video games are his favorite pastime, but he's also looking for girls and makes excuses to linger in a neighborhood he and his partner Zhang Sheng (Hou Yong) have been surveying when he glimpses the pretty, stylish Guan Lifen (He Wenchao). They stay for dinner to avoid rush hour and get caught in a downpour -- and Quiming spots her stranded under an umbrella and they give her a ride.

From then on Quiming is smitten by the mysterious LIfen. She is a bit out of his league, and also turns out to work at a secret lab on "Forest Lane," a street not on any map or GPS system. Lifen leaves a card case containing computer index data in the survey company car, which leads Quiming to her, though when he dresses all up to meet her her supervisor (Liu Tiejian), or so he calls himself, turns up instead -- a hint of trouble to come.

The film focuses wholly on Quiming, the buddies he shares a flat with, the parents he sees now and then, his various jobs, and captures his innocent youthful spirit. Typically when he and his survey partner rush into the car out of the downpour, the first thing he does is arrange his hair. And each of his few but key "dates" with Lifen is memorable, yet light-hearted (despite the dark undertones coming). She may be fancy, but he takes her to the zoo to look at monkeys; riding bumper cars; to a pool hall and dancing; they share soft drinks. His gesture of grasping her hand and reading off his latitude/longitude watch reading and saying "Quiming first held the hand of Lifen here" is a gesture out of the romantic novels cannibalized so skillfully at one time by Wong Kar-wai. Life seems to partake of Quiming's lighthearted spirit, or feed off it. But his innocence is his alone.

That innocence is shattered when on a date after a mysterious break (when Lifen's cell phone has been out of the system), we stay with Lifen, and Quiming seems to have disappeared. Hereafter Qu takes us down a dark and Orwellian road, one that may fit the age of Edward Snowden and whatever China's NSA is. Mystery and paranoia and worse seem ahead, but Qu wisely doesn't really explain anything, leaving Lifen's work and her role or the lack of it in what happens as mysterious as she was to start out with. She could be the future; she could be an angel of doom. She could be as innocent as Quiming.

A "trap street" in cartography terms is nonexistent street mapmakers hide on a map to protect copyright. But here it has an additional meaning, since the off-the-map street where the alluring Lifen works proves a dangerous lure for the young protagonist.

Highly recommended.

Trap Street/水印街 [Shuiyin jie], 94 mins., debuted at Venice 1 Sept. 2013 and was at Toronto and at least 18 international festivals, and was screened for this review as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center-Museum of Modern Art series New Directors/New Films, showing Fri. 28 Mar. 2014 6:30pm at Lincoln Center and Sat. 29 Mar. 4:00pm at MoMA.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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