Er Ci Pu Guang (2012)

vt Double Xposure
China / 105 minutes / color / Laurel, Emei, Guangdong Kunshi Dir: Li Yu Pr: Fang Li Scr: Li Yu, Fang Li Cine: Florian J.E. Zinke Cast: Fan Bingbing, Feng Shaofeng, Siyan Huo, Yao Anlian, Joan Chen, Fang Li, Liang Jing, Kong Wei, Wang Di, Yang Xinyi.

Er Ci Pu Guang - 3 (nice shot of Fan Bingbing)

Qi (Fan Bingbing).

Er Ci Pu Guang - 1 Qi and Dong seem much in love

Qi (Fan Bingbing) and Dong (Feng Shaofeng) seem much in love.

Song Qi (Fan) works in a strangely depopulated hospital for plastic surgeon Dr. Hao (Chen), and is living with boyfriend Liu Dong (Feng), another plastic surgeon. One night Qi’s best friend Zhou Xiao Xi (Siyan) throws a party, and the two women drink too much; when Qi wakes from a stupor she’s oddly alone. Exploring the deserted party rooms, she peeks through a spyhole and sees Xiao Xi and Dong making love. By the time she reaches home, however, Dong is already there and can’t understand why she’s in such a weird mood.

Er Ci Pu Guang - 2 Stranded in the rain, Qi tries to orient herself

Stranded in the rain, Qi (Fan Bingbing) tries to orient herself.

After a major row with Dong, Qi goes to Xiao Xi’s home and, in the midst of another row—during which Xiao Xi confusedly tells Qi the affair has been going on for months—Qi strangles her with a distinctive orange scarf that Xiao has claimed was given to her by her husband but Qi suspects was given to her by Dong. Returning later, Qi buries Xiao Xi in the apartment’s little courtyard.

Er Ci Pu Guang - 4 Qi strangles Xiao Xi

Qi (Fan Bingbing) strangles Xiao Xi (Siyan Huo).

Qi has cleverly arranged for one of Dr. Hao’s patients, Meimei (Wang), to be transformed into a replica of Xiao Xi, at least facially; and, when the cops in the shape of Liu Jian (Fang) come to inquire about the whereabouts of the missing woman, persuades Meimei to pretend briefly to be Xiao Xi.

It’s at this point that we realize that the movie, while apparently narrating to us a straightforward neonoirish thriller, has instead been beguiling us into very strange, unexpected territory. At first Qi’s behavior can be interpreted as her acting out her guilt over killing Xiao Xi; but then, when she accidentally kills Liu Jian with her car only for there to be no trace of an accident, least of all a body, by the time the cops arrive, it’s clear we’ve been observing much of the events through the eyeglass of Qi’s far deeper, more longstanding delusion. There is no surgeon called Liu Dong; there is no cop called Liu Jian.

To the chief investigating cop (Liang) Qi confesses the murder of Xiao Xi; but all that’s found in the grave Qi dug is a diary—the diary of Liu Jian, except that Liu Jian isn’t a cop but the lawyer who raised Qi as his own child after the murder of her mother Mei Ling (Kong), strangled with a distinctive orange scarf . . .

Er Ci Pu Guang - 7 Qi tries to make sense of it all

Qi (Fan Bingbing) tries to make sense of it all.

The “double exposure” of the (translated) title is presumably intended to refer to the two versions we discover of Qi’s situation and backstory, and (far too) much has been made of the fact that this could be seen as a movie of two halves; well, by that same token, so could Alfred Hitchcock’s VERTIGO (1958). While the skill of the narrative lies initially in its deception, misleading us as it does into suspending our disbelief where really we shouldn’t, the skill of its later stages is in its use of non-chronological devices to tell us both stories at once—the superficial and the revealed, the apparent reality and the true, dreadful tale of Qi’s past—while never allowing us to lose the thread.

Er Ci Pu Guang - 9 stunning cinematography 2

The final revelation is nigh.

Various reviewers have complained that the movie is pretentious, presumably because of this; there is, however, a very hazy boundary between ambition and pretention, and these critics may be confusing the two. Others have judged the various plot twists of the latter half of the movie to be arbitrary, yet the groundwork for them has been carefully laid earlier. As a single example of this, at one point while out shopping Qi meets Meimei, and introduces “my boyfriend” to her. Meimei looks puzzled, recoiling slightly, and we suspect it might be that it’s not only with Xiao Xi that Dong has been betraying Qi. But no: as we later find, Meimei’s was reacting as she did because there was no boyfriend standing there beside Qi—just empty space.

Er Ci Pu Guang is Fan’s movie—all the other roles are merely in support—and she delivers a luminous performance. Visually the movie’s stunning, from high-angle shots of night-time Beijing to more orthodox cityscapes seen from Qi’s balcony to some astonishing landscapes as Qi journeys to the Hong Shan Sodium Sulfate Mine in distant Xinjiang Province to find her dying father, working there under the name Wang Tiehui (Yao), or visits the remote lake where a hidden grotto holds a secret she seems to be keeping even from herself. The screengrabs below hardly do this aspect of the movie justice.

Er Ci Pu Guang - 6 Qi visits the enigmatic lake

Qi visits the enigmatic lake.

Er Ci Pu Guang - 10 the grotto that holds Qi's secret

The grotto that holds Qi’s secret.

Er Ci Pu Guang - 8 stunning cinematography 1

En route to the Hong Shan Sodium Sulfate Mine.


2 thoughts on “Er Ci Pu Guang (2012)

  1. Your description of the visual prominence of the film is fabulous, John. The story and (seemingly obscure) theme reminds me of the work of Sono and some other Far East directors, but it is clear enough for your fascinating review that this film is its own kind of animal. Sounds like the lead performance is reason to see it even with the difficulties figured in.

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