Trap Street (Shuiyin Jie): Venice Review

Chinese indie flirts with an underdeveloped noir/thriller edge.

Having a crush on the wrong girl endangers the hero in Vivian Qu’s directing bow.

Vivian Qu, a producer working in China’s indie filmmaking scene, writes and directs the engagingly titled Trap Street like a film noir gone astray. When an unsuspecting youth falls for a mysterious lady, it leads him to tread in forbidden places and into serious danger. The film’s Kafka-esque premise undoubtedly has possibilities, but they don’t come together in any powerful way, and in the end the tension supposed to surround some great state secret dissolves into a hill of beans. Still, first films are made for experimenting, and Qu shows she has an eye for adapting genre to a Chinese idiom and the potential to develop as a narrative filmmaker.

In a generic mainland city, the happy-go-lucky Li Qiuming (indie actor Lu Yulai), son of a party official, has a nice job surveying the streets for digital maps. In his spare time, he makes some extra cash installing surveillance systems, or removing hidden cameras from bigwigs’ homes, as case may be. One day he’s struck by Cupid’s arrow when a well-dressed young woman (He Wenchao) nonchalantly parks her shiny red car in a no-parking area over his protests. He begins searching for her and, since she works nearby, soon finds her. They start dating.

Qiuming, a video game player who often hangs out in pool rooms, hardly seems the ideal match for a sophisticated woman like Guan Lifen. It’s a puzzle why she accompanies him on outings to the zoo and what she sees in riding bumper cars. The audience suspends a lot of disbelief, waiting to find out what’s behind it all. Whereas in an American thriller the answer would be beyond one’s wildest imagination, here it is considerably underwhelming and obvious.

It’s hard to feel sympathy for the hero’s naïveté in walking blithely into danger, standing in forbidden places and staring up insolently at surveillance cameras. It takes him forever to realize that the dead-end lane where Guan Lifen works doesn’t register on the city mapping system; it is, according to one mapmaker, a “trap street”. This may not correspond to the dictionary definition, but the idea of a secret-ridden street not on taxis’ GPS is rather tantalizing. In the film’s world full of prying cameras and cloned SIM cards, where everyone seems to be spying and spied on, paranoia is good policy.

He Wenchao, who is not only an actress but also the director of last year’s lesbian drama Sweet Eighteen, gives the heroine an attractive gravity and aloofness. In a smaller role, Liu Tiejian makes an impression in the role of her unsavory supervisor at work.

Though the city in the film is never named, it must be Nanjing, according to the coordinates given.

Venue:  Venice Film Festival (Critics Week)
Production company: 22 Hours Films  
Cast: Lu Yulai, He Wenchao, Hou Yong, Zhao Ziaofei, Xiang Qun, Liu Tiejian
Director: Vivian Qu
Screenwriter: Vivian Qu
Producer: Sean Chen  
Executive producers: Ying Hua, Sean Chen
Director of photography: Wong Chi Ming  
Production designer: Liu Qiang  
Music: Zuoxiao Zuzhou
Editor:  Yang Hongyu
No rating, 93  minutes