A stylistic departure from his rural ‘border dramas’, Midi Z’s disconcerting meta-filmic response to the #MeToo movement features a stunning performance by co-writer Wu Ke-Xi.
Dir. Midi Z
2019 | Taiwan | Drama | 102 mins | 2.35:1 | Mandarin
Not rated (likely to be R21)
Cast: Wu Ke-Xi, Vivian Sung, Kimi Hsia
Plot: A woman leaves a small theatre company in the country for the big city in pursuit of her acting dream. When she finally welcomes her long anticipation of fame, a series of unfortunate events start to haunt her.
Awards: Nom. for Un Certain Regard Award (Cannes). Nom. for 8 Golden Horses – Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Makeup & Costume Design, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, Best Sound Effects
International Sales: Luxbox
Subject Matter: Mature/Slightly Disturbing
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed on screener)
If you have followed the work of Midi Z over the years, his latest might come as a surprise.
Nina Wu, as it is named after the lead character played by Wu Ke-Xi, is a stylistic departure from his rural ‘border dramas’ centering on struggling, disenfranchised folks either trying to make ends meet or carving up some kind of useful, if not at all legal existence. Themes of identity and illegal immigration are common, perhaps most pointedly in his last fiction feature, The Road to Mandalay (2016).
However, Nina Wu is an entirely different picture from what has come before. It is purported to be a response to the #MeToo movement, which was sparked in the States after the Harvey Weinstein debacle.
By presenting a story about an emerging actress trying to rise up the ranks to become a bona fide star, as well as the degradation she has to endure at the hands of powerful (and perverse) men behind the camera, Midi Z has fashioned a film that goes into uncomfortable places.
At this point, I must also acknowledge Wu as the co-writer, and judging by her stunning performance and also determination to tackle the issue head-on, this is in a way her movie.
Yet being so, I wouldn’t consider Nina Wu a feminist film—in fact, I find it disconcerting to begin with, and perhaps that’s where the provocations start. It is a film that brings to light the physical and psychological abuse that are inflicted on actresses by exploiting their pain through our viewer-voyeurism.
In this regard, Nina Wu will be challenging to watch because of its tone. It forces us to confront things we shouldn’t see… that may also be pleasurable. The slight eroticism stemming from the film’s lesbian subplot does add to this effect.
Yet its meta-filmic and surrealist approach reveals the trauma in a layered way. For instance, in relation to surrealism, the film uses the doppelganger narrative technique quite strongly. In other occasions, the film-within-a-film setting poses questions, putting the viewer in a ‘behind-the-scene’ position as he or she observes directors and producers in action.
Ultimately, some might find Nina Wu a contradictory piece and its messaging rather muddled. Yet others might be game to be challenged by the provocations posed. Personally, I see it as a regressive film in light of the #MeToo movement, yet its layered quality and utter bleakness may just about suggest a new dawn—that only by tasting bitter medicine can we then move on to find a more palatable remedy.