Trap Street (2013)

3.5 stars

This seemingly saccharine drama about a blossoming romance between two strangers plunges headlong into an unexpected, but satisfying direction.

Dir. Vivian Qu
2013 | China | Drama/Mystery | 93 mins | 1.85: 1 | Mandarin
PG (passed clean) 

Cast: Lu Yulai, He Wenchao, Hou Yong
Plot: In a southern city of China, a digital mapping surveyor encounters a mysterious woman on an unmappable street.
Awards: Nom. for Fedeora Award (Venice); Nom. for Discovery Award (Toronto); Nom. for Lions Club Award (Rotterdam)
International Sales: 22 Hours Films

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse


A1

Review #1,016

(Reviewed at Italian Film Festival 2014 – first published 2 Apr 2014)

Spoilers: No

This is a clever film, so relevant and in many ways reflective of the climate of today’s socio-technological world. Directed by debutant writer-director Vivian Qu, who also produced the Golden Berlin Bear winner Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014), Trap Street is one of a handful of works from the increasingly prominent and diverse mainland Chinese independent cinema scene.

Qu’s film was featured at the Critics’ Week at the Venice Film Festival, and while it is not a film of tremendous dramatic power, it works as a genre-hopping romance-mystery that echoes influences of noir.

A man is acquainted with a nice but mysterious woman on an unmappable street. He works for a digital mapping company. She works for… well no one has a clue. Being naïve and all, he falls in love with her.

Trap Street is a crisply-shot feature with sharp images, often in low-key lighting. It begins like any other saccharine drama about a blossoming romance between two strangers, but veers into an unexpected direction that recalls the thematic concerns of films such as Coppola’s The Conversation (1974) and Haneke’s Cache (2005).

Surveillance, an often debated issue post-9/11, is given fair treatment here, but in ways that are positively satisfying. I will not say too much about what goes on because I want you to discover the movie for yourself. Qu smartly imbues social concerns about personal privacy, and finds a good spot broaching Chinese politics without being overtly anti-government.

Ultimately, Trap Street is not about the two lovers, but what is transpiring outside of their relationship that is invading their collective private space. The film’s theme works on a number of levels, and it is often fascinating to see it unfold right till the excellent and ambiguous final shot.

Trap Street is slowly-paced, and despite a couple of uninteresting moments, it pulls through because of its themes. Much credit should also be given to the two main actors Lu Yulai and He Wenchao, whose awkward and strange chemistry provide an important base for more serious matters to be pursued by Qu. Lu’s performance in particular is commendable as he expresses fear, paranoia and confusion with ease.

In the movie, the unmappable street is called Forest Lane. The safest way to find out more about this mysterious road is to simply watch the film. Any other way will land you in hot soup.

Grade: B+


Clip:

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