Feb 4, 2019 in Film Review

“My Camera Does Not Lie” Is the Issue of the Real in Suzhou River

The film Suzhou River is named after the river that is clogged with pollution. It runs through the Chinese city in the industrial area known as Shanghai. However, an interesting love story could take place anywhere in the world. Lou Ye is a writer and director of film Suzhou River. He belongs to the sixth filmmaking generation in China. In this well-documented film, Lou Ye uses a modern style and look, differentiating it from other traditional Chinese movies. He also has a different theme as compared to other directors of his generation. Lou Ye uses hand-held camera, American names and a seedy town setting. The movie is narrated by an unnoticed videographer. This allows him to narrate the tale to the audience with details. The film echoes Vertigo and Rear Window.

Lou Ye’s Suzhou River unfolds in a linear fashion. It ends up spilling inwards and circling back, forcing viewers to search for the truth that hides in the fiction. The audience is left to determine whether there is any difference between fiction and reality and whether the difference really matters. At the beginning of the movie, an unnamed videographer appears drifting down the Suzhou River. He speaks about importance of the river to the Shanghai community. He focuses on different people before his boat drifts out of the range. The unnamed videographer meets Meimei, a young beautiful lady who entertains customers at a bar. The camera peeks at the young woman, often furtively, for example, when she is dressing or crossing the bridge. Whenever Meimei is not around, the narrator longs to see her appearance.

Meimei asks the narrator whether he would spend his life like Mardar looking for her in case she left. Mardar is probably a city legend. The lonely narrator appears to be imagining the tale of Mardar. Mardar is a motorcycle agent who loves a smuggler’s daughter called Moudan. Mardar starts to look for Moudan. His search takes him to the bar where the young lady works as an entertainer and a barmaid.

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The narrator points out that his camera does not lie. It is hard to determine who is imagining whom in the movie. Similarly, the audience starts to wonder whether everyone in the movie is real and whether there is anyone real at all. Literally, none of the persons in this film is real. They are all created through characterization to make the movie flow as planned. Actually, the audience is watching characters of two movies. One of the movies is projected on the screen while the other one is recorded secretly by an unnamed narrator. Just like the aimless, toothless young people in the film, once detached, twice removed. They appear as the narrator drifts down the life’s filthy river in a place where mermaids cannot survive, surrounded by a community and, yet, they are lost and isolated in their own film.

The plot in Suzhou River appears to be banal. However, it has a mixture of a crime genre and flourishing love story, which makes it unique. This is achieved in different ways that the director uses. Firstly, the colour makes a fantastic move that alerts the audience of everything happening. Secondly, restlessness in the film is unique. Elegant camera work in the movie, emotional lives of characters, elliptical, choppy editing, and narration make it stand out. This combination draws attention of the audience. It also makes the audience believe that somebody is commanding this reality.

The shadowy narrator in the film is the heart of its mystery. The woman that Mardar also seeks shows that there is something that the camera knows, but the audience does not. Since the camera does not lie, Mardar has to get what he is searching for. Narration in the movie is the most evocative of the Marker. Through its combination of speculation and observation, the narrator turns daily life into science fiction. He dilates, compresses, and plays with merits of genre, space, and time. In fact, the opening series could quite reasonably belong to a documentary. Similar to Marker, the narrator tries to create a history through Benjamin. He tries to create and alternative story to the legal one. The alternative story sifts through ephemera rumours and rubbish. It connects and reads random signs.

At first, the audience is tricked to believe that the narrator is telling his own story of love with Meimei. The narrator twists the audience to believe that the story of Moudan and Mardar is a deviation. Eventually, the audience starts to realize that the latter is the real body of the movie. The audience realizes that the narrator is marginalizing himself for his narrative. He is letting it slip away just like Moudan allows Mardar to slip away and the same way Meimei does to the narrator. This is the stage when the audience realizes that 'Suzhou' is meant to be a great movie river. Suzhou is a film river not only in its concealing of opposites of water and land, death and life, free will and fate or in the notion that there are destinies, histories, and stories that are incorporated in fact under the water and are unseen by the real world. However, they are reflexively shaping it. In its persistent circularity and narrative logic, the river tributaries branching from the main narrative finally flood it. The narrator stands in for the viewer and the director. Through his incorporeal point of view and the fact that he expresses himself through invisible body of violence and sex, he complicates his baffling motivations.

It is rare in total movie experience where plot, location, music, colour, mood, style, form, and acting all adhere to overwhelm the mind and heart. Suzhou River shows that the desire to narrate stories is connected to death, sex, and control. Like death, storytelling urges, begins, and ends. Like sex, it leads to a release and climax. Like control, it remakes and orders experience. Suzhou River is mostly shot from the narrator’s point of view. As an unseen videographer, the narrator travels the ostensible river Suzhou recording stories frolicked out on its vessels and banks. Scenes that he is not directly involved in are a result of the events that had been told by those who were there. Initially, this is the most striking aspect of the Suzhou River. Narration on the river banks makes the audience feel involved as the take unfolds. Even if some shaky camera and rapid cuts are gratuitously disorienting, the narration is unique. It shows that the camera cannot lie as the narrator points out.

The narrator tells about his personal life. He discusses his girlfriend and his job. The camera obsessively captures Meimei with the narrator’s captivation with the community around the Suzhou River. However, the narrator takes the back seat and starts recounting on a legend of the Suzhou River community. He narrates the tale of Mardar, a motorcycle courier who is searching for his girlfriend in the city. Unfortunately, the girlfriend throws herself in the river and her body is not found. This happened when she realized that Mardar had planned to kidnap her. Mardar’s story collides with the narrator’s story as he is convinced that Meimei is his lost love. This is similar to Vertigo's plot where a man witnesses his lover commit suicide and remains convinced that one day he will find her alive.

Chinese film director and writer Lou Ye reveals a debut feature that greatly benefits from his exceptional style that appears to make occurrences in the film more tangible. Ye portrays river Suzhou as a life metaphor. It is swirling, has undercurrents, and eddies many stories that it has kept in its mysterious heart. The stories have no effect on the life’s mass flow, but turn the lives of people who are involved in ups and downs. Sections dealing with the promising affection of Mudan and Mardar are excellent. However, occurrences pick a pace too quickly in the end. They rush the story of Meimei and the narrator as compared to that of Mudan and Mardar. This results in an abrupt ending. The narrator does not gain enough empathy that he could have gotten even if the audience saw everything via his eyes. Generally, Suzhou River is a sophisticatedly original story that contains undercurrents and depth, which makes it stand out on the background of the majority of jetsam and flotsam Chinese video stores have.

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Chinese film industry has entered the new millennium with Lou Ye’s dazzling Suzhou River. This film had widespread impact on the audience that left people reeling. This is one of the innovative examples of Chinese works where the director decides to use an unseen cameraman to narrate the events of the film. The unseen narrator describes his life, his love story and incorporates it with the characters in the film. Since the cameras cannot lie, the audience is made to believe that the characters are real. However, they are created out of characterization as it happens in other films. The narrator in Suzhou River utilizes his storytelling skills to make the story flow from the begging to the end. The film has a fascinatingly slanting tactic of storytelling. The narrator uses suspense to keep the audience glued to the screen.

There is almost as much yellow colour and water permeating the Suzhou River as the decay and grime that appear to leak out of the current Shanghai. This is one of the facts that show the reality of the term “Camera never lies”. Even if the film was produced several years before, the reality behind the camera could be seen in the present day Shanghai. The scenes in the film give River Suzhou feeling of splashed out stagnancy. This is seen when Meimei is undressing and when Mardar is defeated. It is also revealed when Moudan and Mardar are collected from the river. The water tank where Meimei performs and flooded streets show that the river is washed out of stagnancy. In Suzhou River film, light mostly has a yellowish colour. Some of the yellow things in the film are shadowy alleyways, nightclub chairs, raincoats, neon lights, beer glasses, phone booths, ashtrays, Meimei's home, crane, and houseboat. In addition, Meimei's golden wig is yellowish. These things infuse the movie with a yellow feeling and appearance of an old videotape or photograph. Lou Ye uses yellow colour and water to infuse the movie with surrealism of categories, something that often conflicts with the documentary approach.

Hand-held cameras, a myriad of flashbacks, flickering light bulbs, and fragmented narrative allow Lou Ye to present the film in a twisted reality vision that is full of hypothetical complexity. Ye Lou manages to create order among surrealism, a documentary and magic realism out of disintegration. Suzhou River appears across a fascinating meditation and intense fragmentation on the evanescent moments that do not waste time. In fact, Ye Lou distances his movie from other Chinese films of the 5th generation. He infuses the sixth generation film style in his own style.

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Lou Ye generates a dystopia between nonfictional and surreal. Using the homogeneousness of delinquency, Ye presents Shanghai as a degraded industrial garbage site full of stagnant water and decaying tableaux. However, Shanghai has an occasional indication of the divine mermaid imagery. Surprisingly, the viewer is not allowed to interact with the narrator face-to-face. The narrator remains behind the camera, but the viewer gets the story from his point of view. In fact, the director is expected to spend his time smoking, drinking, and videotaping everything that he can. He is expected to spray-paint his advertisements on material rubble or spend his time watching his old favourite tapes. However, the director in this film is different. He uses hidden cameras to show another side of his life. Even if the audience is not exposed to his face, it is possible to tell that he is a real man. He does his work with passion and manages to organize other characters emotionally, physically, and psychologically to give the best drama. The narrator is alienated from his working environment since the audience is not allowed to see him through the film. Even if the narrator and Mardar chase the same woman, the narrator’s life does not have romance in reality. Instead, he uses his romance with a woman to make Mardar's story epic and worth retelling.

When the narrator converses with Meimei, she realizes that he wants to live a romantic and dramatic life. This conversation is repeated twice in the film. Meimei tells him that events like in the Mardar's story appear in love stories only. Like modern directors and filmmakers, the videographer in Suzhou River is predestined to watch. At the end of the film, the narrator says that "Nothing lasts forever". He says that he will take a drink, close his eyes, and wait to narrate the next story in another film. It appears as if the videographer is representing the crisis film-makers experience. He is gifted with storytelling that allows him to narrate stories of characters such as Moudan and Mardar. At times, the line between the videographer and Mardar and that between Meimei and Moudan seem blurred. However, Meimei and the videographer lose their identities in the end when Moudan and Mardar lead to a violent conclusion.

In conclusion, “My camera does not lie” is a real issue in Suzhou River. The narrator who is unseen uses his cameras to narrate his story incorporated with that of characters in the film to show the reality behind the camera. This is one of the unique Chinese films where the narrator tells touching love stories of unreal characters in the film to show daily life. The story unfolds in Shanghai where the director films unofficially. He uses yellow colour and water to show how Shanghai is and will be in the future. The film is half documentary and shows how betrayed love can lead to disturbances as characters look for reunion with their lost lovers. The violent conclusion proves that the camera cannot lie.

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