‘Saturday Fiction’ Review: Theater of History

The resplendent Gong Li anchors a mysterious — and usually mystifying — tale of intrigue…

‘Saturday Fiction’ Review: Theater of History

The resplendent Gong Li anchors a mysterious — and usually mystifying — tale of intrigue in “Saturday Fiction,” the most current feature by the Chinese director Lou Ye. As in films like “Summer Palace” and “Purple Butterfly,” Lou sets a Hitchcockian thriller of identity and enthusiasm on the cusp of important historic situations, though in “Saturday Fiction,” individual and political dramas collide in specifically combustible means.

The film normally takes position in December 1941, on the eve of the Pearl Harbor assault, in a Shanghai occupied by Japan and crisscrossed by Allied and Axis spies. Gong plays a famed actress, Jean Yu, who has just returned to the town after an absence, ostensibly to star in a perform directed by her lover, Tan Na (Mark Chao).

But Jean’s real motives continue to be elusive, mired in a web of allegiances involving, amongst others, her ex-husband, who has been kidnapped by Japanese forces, and a fatherly French diplomat who jobs her with an espionage mission. Lou additional obscures Jean’s motives with some clever, metafictional sleight of hand: Typically, the movie segues deceptively in between onstage rehearsals of Tan’s participate in and Jean’s offstage encounters.

Visually, the effect is a single of elegant chaos. The cinematographer Zeng Jian captures a rain-drenched, period of time-dressed Shanghai in tender black-and-white, with a restless hand-held digicam that lends poetry even to higher-octane shootouts. On the level of narrative, however, the movie guidelines over into plain outdated confusion, as Jean’s progressively illogical actions contribute to a single of history’s wonderful disasters.

However star electrical power is a logic unto itself, and Lou has ensured a limitless supply by casting Gong as an actress-spy. She conveys depths of soreness and longing even when the script provides none, seducing us as simply as Jean seduces her enemies.

Saturday Fiction
Not rated. In Mandarin, English, Japanese and French, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 6 minutes. In theaters.