Zoom Hunting -- Film Review

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HONG KONG -- Through its two protagonists -- a photographer and a novelist who become inordinately curious about an illicit affair in their Taipei neighborhood -- "Zoom Hunting" explores voyeurism with echoes of "Rear Window" and "Blow Up."

The suspense mystery marks a promising directing debut by Cho Li, who loads her tightly woven screenplay with carefully constructed revelations. Observing her subjects' obsessions with cool-headed distance, the film maintains an intelligent objectivity, but loses out in tension and cinematic power in some emotionally under-charged key scenes.

Poised somewhere between commercial and independent filmmaking, the competently developed, but not thrillingly original concept could attract a small scale semi-arthouse crowd. The film will be released in Taiwan through Warner Brothers. A Hong Kong theatrical release is also rumored to be in the pipeline.

Fashion magazine photographer Ruyi (Ning Chang) inadvertently captures a couple (Wen Sheng-Hao and Zhou Heng-Yin) in flagrante while taking casual snapshots from her balcony. When she realizes that their union is adulterous, she compulsively stalks them with her camera. Around the same time, Ruyi's novelist sister Ruxing (Zhu Zhi-Ying) suddenly overcomes her writer's block and pens an amour fou whose plot evolves into premeditated murder.

The story stays steadily on course without straying into periphery characters or subplots, leading up to a teasing ending that invites more than one interpretation. Cho's narrative technique could have appeared more polished if she did not rely so much on lengthy verbal explanations to divulge the mystery.

In addition to being a crime mystery, the film also lightly broaches the ethics of art. In one scene, Ruxing argues that "voyeurism is the mother of creativity." It poses the interesting issue of the creative impulse and the art of representation as intrinsically a form of intrusion into others' lives.

Hong Kong D.O.P. Kwan Pun-Leung reinforces the central motif of seeing with fluid cinematography, extracting plenty of visual interest from a commonplace urban neighborhood and achieving good depth of field. Cheung Ka-Fai's smooth editing does not follow the stock jerky rhythm of genre films. Music has a laid back, Continental feel.

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In this genre, peeping Toms tend to be stereotyped as men, while women are objectified by the male gaze. "Zoom Hunting" offers the alternative to examine the mindset and behavioral pattern of woman voyeurs, though the female perspective that emerges is not so distinct. While Ruxing's actions are backed by credible motives, Ruyi's character remains that of functional observer despite being the catalyst. Chang has a spirited presence and Zhou an aura of mystery, but not enough psychological depth has gone into their characterization.

Venue: Hong Kong Filmart Industry Screening
Production: Ocean Deep Films
Sales: Good Films Workshop
Cast: Ning Chang, Zhu Zhi-Ying, Wen Sheng-Hao, Zhou Heng-Yin
Director-screenwriter: Cho Li
Screenwriter: Yang Yuan-Ling
Producer: Yeh Jufeng
Director of Photography: Kwan Pun-Leung
Production designer: Tsai Pei-Ling
Costume designer: Sun Hui-Mei
Music: Jeffrey Cheng
Editor: Cheung Ka-Fai
No rating, 90 minutes
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