Saturday, July 17, 2010

AAIFF ’10: Zoom Hunting

If you sleep around, at least have the good sense to close the blinds. Had a pair of illicit lovers simply done so, it would have avoided all sorts of trouble in Li Cho voyeuristic thriller Zoom Hunting (trailer here), which screened during the 33rd Asian American International Film Festival on an appropriately steamy day in Manhattan.

The Yang sisters are beautiful and creative. Ruyi, the younger, is a photographer who leaves her dirty coffee cups all over their apartment. Her older sister-roommate Ruxing is a neatly organized novelist suffering from a recent bout of writer’s block. Ruyi thinks she has stumbled on the cure. Inadvertently, she snapped some revealing photos of a couple in the apartment building across the street. Later spying the woman on the street, Ruyi follows her, deducing she is in fact a married mother involved in a torrid affair. Surely such voyeurism should also spark Ruxing’s inspiration.

Indeed, after a few initial “no-really-how-could-I’s,” Ruxing is typing away again, using her sister to stakeout the love nest. Dozing off amid her surveillance, Ruyi wakes in time to observe some sort of physical altercation going on in the apartment, but she cannot make out the details. Concerned, she calls five-o, but the plodding flatfoots do not find anything amiss. Her sister seems to be acting a little weird though. From here, suspicions start to mount.

Zoom has an odd vibe. It is sort of like a naughty late night cable thriller directed by an art-house filmmaker from a woman’s point of view. While its debt to Rear Window is inescapable, Cho keeps a few clever revelations tucked up her sleeve, divulging them quite deftly in the final act. Though the ultimate twist is a bit predictable, at least she keeps it ambiguous, which makes it less frustrating.

Though she looks like she should be in the fashion shoots rather than behind the camera, Ning Chang is convincingly down to earth as Ruyi. Playing it smart by genre standards, Chang definitely keeps the audience’s sympathy, even when the drama lurches a bit over the top. By necessity, Zhu Zhi-Ying is coolly reserved as Ruxing, effectively setting up Zoom’s big reveals as a result.

Despite content that will definitely appeal to male viewers, Zoom is clearly more in-tune with its feminine side. Though it would hardly be fair to call it a man-bashing movie, its male characters are essentially self-centered cads, boring working stiffs, or nice but goofy old guys. Still, it is hardly a war of the sexes considering how much screen time is allotted to the two sisters, Chou Heng-Yin as the married woman in Ruyi’s photos, and Chinese-American actress Michelle Krusiec in her Taiwanese film debut.

Though it has some rough stylistic edges, Zoom is never dull, pulling viewers through at a healthy gallop. Highly commercial with an engaging lead performance, it ought to at least find an American shelf-life on DVD in the future. It is one of several selections nicely showcasing Taiwanese cinema at this year’s AAIFF, which continues through Wednesday (7/21), mostly at the Chelsea Clearview and Quad Cinemas.