(Suzhou He)

Directed by Ye Lou. 2000.

Talking Pictures alias







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A deep sense of longing and unfulfillment pervades Ye Louís Suzhou River, a longing perhaps for the perfect love that is unattainable. Originally filmed as two 37-minute episodes for the television show Supercities, Suzhou River pays a colorful homage to Westernized film noir and adds modern stylistic touches reminiscent of Wong Kar-wai to produce a satisfying if not overly deep cinematic experience. The film was banned in China for two years because it did not receive approval from the proper authorities and Lou has been prohibited from making films in China for five years because his latest work, Summer Palace, was submitted to the Cannes Film Festival without official approval.  

Like the Ganges in India, the polluted Suzhou River in Shanghai defines the life of the people who live and work in its dingy environment, a life of struggle for economic survival. The story is told through the eyes of the narrator, an unnamed videographer who, like a silent voyeur, travels up and down the river looking for stories to film, spray painting advertisements of his work on street-corner walls. The only bright spot in his life is his relationship with Meimei (Zhou Xun), a performer of a mermaid act at the Happy Tavern nightclub.  

The narrator tells us that Meimei, however, has unexpected periods of silence and often disappears for days at a time without explanation. He relates how his moments of sadness turn to joy when he sees her though his open window walking across the bridge with her arms folded across her chest. When Meimei asks him if he would look for her forever if she disappeared, he answers yes then tells the story of a motorcycle courier named Mardar (Jia Hongsheng) who was involved in an intense relationship with Moudan, a sixteen year-old girl. Moudan also played by Zhou Xun bears a striking resemblance to Meimei in the vein of Hitchcockís Vertigo. 

One of Mardarís odd jobs working for Shanghai gangsters was to transport Moudan to her auntís house when her father was having an affair. He falls in love with her, however, and gives her a mermaid doll on her birthday but betrays her trust by kidnapping her at the bequest of the mobsters and holds her in an abandoned warehouse until the ransom is received. When Moudan realizes her betrayal and is upset about the sum received, clutching her mermaid doll, she jumps into the Suzhou River, telling Mardar she will return as a mermaid. After Mardar is released from prison after serving three years, he finds the look-alike Meimei at the Happy Tavern and is convinced that she is the love he tragically lost.  

Enigmatic to the end, the rest of the story is better left for the viewer to discover and it is open to different interpretations. Suzhou River may not be the masterpiece that some claim but it has a brooding dreamlike quality that touches a responsive chord of longing in those who have sought but not yet found the perfect love. Like Kim Novak in Vertigo, Zhou Xunís sparkling eyes and expressive features will remain in your memory. 


Howard Schumann
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