Wednesday, November 02, 2016

SDAFF ’16: White Lies, Black Lies

Constantly working around disembodied mannequin heads could slightly warp someone’s perspective (ever seen William Lustig’s Maniac or the remake?). Working as a journalist could potentially corrupt one’s ethical values even further. Viewers can judge for themselves when a sensational criminal investigation and the resulting media frenzy engulf three former high school classmates who chose very different career paths in Lou Yi-an’s White Lies, Black Lies (trailer here), which screens as part of this year’s San Diego Asian Film Festival.

Su Junjie and his wife used to supply wigs and model heads to beauty parlors, until she either slit her own throat out of jealous spite or he murdered her. Su duly calls the police and accompanies her to the hospital, but he up and bails during her surgery. This seems rather suspicious to the police, especially when they learn he has since fled town with his former high school sweetheart, the also very married Chou Xiaochen.

This is not their first intimate brush with death, as Jade, a junior reporter for a popular weekly tabloid knows only too well. She was once Chou’s BFF, but they grew apart after the untimely death of Chou’s abusive father. At the time, there were questions regarding Su and Chou’s proactive involvement, which now seem highly pertinent in light of recent events.

WLBL has a strange vibe that blends the intrigue of a real life 1960s murder mystery with the intimate, in-the-moment recklessness of Godard’s Breathless. The past is never dead and buried for Lou. In fact, he often lets flashbacks bleed into the current timeline. This is definitely noir on the moody side. The sun never seems to shine and love always leads to more problems.

Annie Chen is absolutely terrific as Jade, wrestling with her own guilt from the past, even as she exploits her old relationship with Chou. She depicts a genuine ethical developmental arc, but it is an unusuallly subtle one, completely lacking any lazy moralizing. Likewise, Tiffany Hsu Wei-ning portrays Chou with great sensitivity and vulnerability, even as she reveals a torrent of shocking secrets late in the third act. Wang Po-chieh is definitely a slow-burner as Su, perhaps to a fault. However, he still generates plenty of heat with Hsu.

Despite his somewhat lurid subject matter and undisguised contempt for the media, Lou is unflaggingly rigorous in his approach. He sets the external scene with care, while steadily drawing viewers into Su and Chou’s internal conflicts. It is a stylishly severe mystery that avoids cliché and sentimentality like the plague. Highly recommended for discerning viewers, White Lies, Black Lies screens this Saturday (11/5), during the 2016 SDAFF.