An unconventional mystery-drama about the burden of personal guilt as Wang Xiaoshuai riskily pursues narrative fragmentation that ultimately rewards with a strong finale.
Dir. Wang Xiaoshuai
2014 | China | Drama/Mystery | 116 mins | 1.85:1 | Mandarin
PG13 (passed clean) for some mature content
Cast: Lu Zhong, Feng Yuanzheng, Qin Hailu, Qin Hao, Huang Suying
Plot: A retired widow has her daily routine derailed when she starts receiving mysterious, anonymous phone calls.
Awards: Nom. for Golden Lion (Venice); Nom. for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Sound Effects (Golden Horse)
International Sales: Chinese Shadows
Subject Matter: Moderate – History, Guilt, Politics
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
A regular sight at Berlin and Cannes, Wang Xiaoshuai’s only Venice entry so far is an interesting take on personal guilt due to the burden of historical circumstance. In Red Amnesia, the ‘history’ part of the proceedings doesn’t quite come into the picture till the last third.
As such, apart from the excellent performance by Lu Zhong as an elderly widow suffering from an unexpected bout of psychological affliction, it may be difficult to resonate with Wang’s film until the full weight of history—that of the circumstances surrounding an aspect of the Cultural Revolution—comes bearing down on Deng Meijuan, the aforementioned lady, and us as viewers.
For the most part, Red Amnesia works as a mystery as an anonymous caller disturbs Deng for days, while she tends (way too eagerly) to her two grown-up sons who are living their own lives, as well as her even older mother in a nursing home.
Wang riskily pursues narrative fragmentation and ambiguity, as reality, hallucination and dreams become difficult to ascertain within the film’s consistent realist tone. At times, this approach feels awkward; at other times, viewers may not be sure if the film is going anywhere meaningful.
The structural—and psychological—complexity of its narrative ultimately bears fruit in the calming-then-breathless final act, yet Wang is shrewd enough to retain a level of thought-provoking ambiguity till the very end.
Red Amnesia may not be one of Wang’s most consistent efforts, but its unconventional approach to tackling the burden of guilt and regret, while also commenting on intergenerational issues that are troubling contemporary China, are worth the journey.