Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Midi Z & Wu Ke-xi’s Nina Wu

The late Kim Ki-duk made some great films (like Pieta and Moebius), but if Woody Allen can be cancelled without proof, you have to wonder how much longer we will be able to find his films. For Kim, there are court cases and investigations that conclude the allegations were most likely factual. Although not expressly identified, the Kim case seems to have partly inspired Midi Z’s Nina Wu, written by and starring his long-time collaborator Wu Ke-xi, which releases today on DVD.

After eight years trying to make it as an actress in Taipei, Nina Wu only has a handful of credits in commercials and short films. She lives a solitary, hand-to-mouth existence, getting by on tips as a non-pornographic web-cammer. Suddenly, that could all change when she is called out of the blue for a major audition. The catch is the part involves nudity, explicit sex, and humiliating situations—but it is a significant role.

How she lands it will be fully revealed over time—maybe sort of. However, she continues to endure emotionally abuse throughout the shoot. The director and crew instinctively treat her like dirt and occasionally justify it on method grounds, after the fact. Yet, the festival-bound film could be transformative for her career and life. So much so, there could be someone out there who is already out to get her. Or perhaps not. Wu’s perspective is definitely not a “reliable narrator.”

However, she represents a powerhouse international star-making turn from Wu Ke-xi. It is a quiet performance, but frequently a terrifying one, both for her ferocious intensity and her painfully exposed vulnerability. There are times when this film is hard to watch. Yet, those scenes are some of most powerful (and purposeful) that you will see in a year of new releases. By the way, everything said about Wu Ke-xi also applies just as much to Hsia Yu-chiao as her rival (“#3”), if not more so.

Nina Wu
should also radically change cineastes’ image of Midi Z. In the past, even his narrative films have displayed an urgent in-the-moment, on-the-street documentary vibe. However, this film is meticulously crafted and strikingly composed. His visuals pop, in a big, cinematic way. Likewise, cinematographer Florian J.E. Zinke’s color palette is rich, vibrant, and sometimes alarming.

Maybe not-so ironically, there are bravura scenes in the film
that probably best compare with Kim’s Moebius. In this case, Midi Z and Wu are definitely not taking any prisoners. Nina Wu has been widely labeled a “#metoo” film and a psychological thriller. To some extent, both are certainly true. Yet, there is much more to it. The beleaguered title character also has a lot to say about mental health, social alienation, spiritual malaise, and the disappearance of empathy from modern society. It is often tough stuff, but it is a very good film. Recommended for those who will appreciate its uncompromising vision, Nina Wu releases today (5/18) on DVD.