Thursday, December 21, 2006

Curiosity Kills the Cat (2006)

Curiosity Kills the Cat (Zhang Yibai, 2006)
Mandarin Title: Hao qi hai shi mao

It is very important to place Curiosity Kills the Cat within the social milieu that it's supposed to be placed. Watching the film without the faintest idea that it is set in a highly urbanized area in the riverbanks of the Yangtze would lessen the impact of the film; probably even dilluting its intentions as mere pedestrian and shallow. The knowledge of the setting would emphasize that the characters in the film are reactionary towards the ongoing capitalization of communist China; that a widening divide between the have's and the have not's are bestowing an impact on the psyche of the Chinese.

In a telling scene near the end of the film, Fendou (Fan Liao), the security guard of the residential complex tells Rose (Carina Lau) that if she just follow the Yangtze downstream, she will reach his hometown. Rose, the only daughter of a wealthy corporation owner, is taken aback for a while, probably surprised that the lowly guard would share an insignificant fact of his life to her. Her reactions do not last long. The divide dictates that he is available for any type of service as long as the price is right; the guard understands that fact but also knows that in such an engagement, the two of them have become equals. He tries to prolong those moments of equality by an activity of his impoverished lifestyle: he counts each and every note that is given him to make sure the payment is complete and he is not swindled by Rose. Rose dejects such invasion and tells the guard to hurry up; uncomfortable that the great divide be narrowed by any human connection.

Rose's husband Mr. Zheng (Jun Hu) is not born rich. He is a beneficiary of the new economic system and has worked himself to being wealthy, first by marrying Rose and second, by maintaining such marriage. Again, the eruption of a love affair with a lowly hairstylist Lynn (Jia Song) threatens to disrupt the gap. The ease of his reaching his present social status is the same ease for which it can be removed. The sexual and romantic relations he has established with Lynn is seen as his downfall. Lynn sees the relationship as a gateway to the top. Zheng bribes her with money to stop their romantic relationship; she accepts, but later on builds a nail shop in the residential complex just to be closer to his then lover. For Lynn, Zheng is a glimmer of hope for a new life; the same way Rose is once the hope for Zheng to manipulate the system for his own establishment. It's that problematic love triangle that pervades the film's plot; it also establishes the closely-knit themes of the social divide and the once impossible hope for an upward movement in capitalist Chinese society.

Then there's Momo (Yuan Lin), the curious and nosy conspiracy theorist who first established the ongoing romance between Zheng and Lynn. She photographs them with her cellular phone hidingly during their intimate moments; follows them wherever they go; and later on, attempts to use such knowledge to benefit her relationship with Fendou the security guard. She first tempts the security guard about the upper class lifestyle when she claims she has been invited into posh parties in the units of the residential complex; the guard scoffs at Momo and reprimands her for wishing to be equal with the rich not knowing that once he has taken a bite or a mere look at such lifestyle, the vicious cycle of capitalist greed will invade his processes.

Director Zhang Yibai cleverly wraps such social dynamics in a thrilling tale of marital deterioration. Within that residential complex, a heightening sense of awareness is discovered by the residents, the tenants, and the employees. Despite the heavy handed approach, Zhang masterfully crafts a film that can be both appreciated as a piece of entertainment, or a biting social commentary. It also helps that Zhang's storytelling skills is meticulous; that his approach of telling the tale in a puzzle piece fashion works without falling into the usual mistake of severe plot holes or Tarantino-like gimmickry.


Anonymous said...

A very well thought out review. I watched this movie last night and thoroughly enjoyed it, especially the several 'shocks' throughout the the story which kept it exciting.

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks Oli,

This movie's criminally underseen. There's too much attention being given to Jia Zhangke's meditations on China's societal transformations (and rightly so, he's a brilliant filmmaker), but most of the mainstream films coming out of China are terrific too, and also observant of what's happening there.