Review of Curiosity Kills the Cat (Haoqi hai si mao; China, 2006), A China Vision Group production, in association with Eagle Spirit Management. (International sales: Golden Network Asia, Hong Kong)
Director: Zhang Yibai
Producers: Jane Shao, Thomas Ho.
Executive Producer: Jimmy Wu, Niu Xinhui
Screenwriter: Huo Xin, Zhang Yibai
Editor: Zhang Yifan
Music: Daniel Walker
Cinematographer: Yang Tao
Art Director: Yank (cq) Wong
Sound: He Wei
Cast: Carina Lau, Hu Jun, Liao Fan, Song Jia, Lin Yuan, Chen Chen, Peng Jiayi, Xiaojian, (cq) Yan Yan (Mandarin dialogue)
Running time: 99 MIN.
Release in China: 2006.
Shaoyi’s Rating: B+ (Very Good)
Director Zhang Yibai caught critics’ attention with his stylistically daring pic Spring Subway (2002) that features a couple’s waning passion after a few years’ marriage. If time does play a role in creativity, then this new pic by Zhang is surely a proof of that. Curiosity reveals us a more mature, sophisticated, and artistically self-conscious Zhang who knows what he is doing, how to get it done, and how not to overdo some scenes when subtlety and control are needed. Teaming with noted writer Huo Xin (Kung Fu Hustle, Quitting, Shower), Zhang was able to come up with a script that is both convincing and unpredictable, a combination rarely seen in Chinese cinema. There is no question that Curiosity reminds one of many Hollywood thrillers and mysteries, Momento (2000, d. Chris Nolan) for one and Matching Point (2005, Woody Allen) for another, but it certainly has its Chinese twists and carries layers of social commentary.
The story takes place in a big city by the Yangtze River, where roads and hills are as clouded as the film’s plot: there is a couple with their son, seemingly happily married and living in a luxurious apartment beyond the imagination of most Chinese, there is an “uncultured” but fatally seductive manicure store owner, there is a security guard who seldom reveals his emotion, and there is this “curious” and cell-obsessed girl who runs a photo shop next to the apartment. Then a series of strange incidents occur, which includes the wife’s luxurious car being vandalized in red paint, the upscale apartment’s glass roof showered in red paint, the wife herself soaked in red paint, and, of course, the seductive girl being murdered one day. All these incidents, which may seem not unusual for a typical thriller, are presented in a non-linear way but smartly woven into the four perspectives of the leading characters. It is not until the very end that the filmmaker satisfies the audience’s “curiosity” by piecing the fragmented puzzle together, ultimately revealing a coherent story about lust, passion, betrayal, conspiracy, revenge, and, most of all, human’s natural “curiosity” for things they don’t have and for the lives they are seldom exposed to. In terms of performance, while Hu Jun and Carina Lau are as good as expected, the most impressive ones come from Song Jia and Liao Fan, the former playing a passion-and-jealousy-driven country girl-turned-mistress who oftentimes looks more sympathetic than manipulative, and the latter playing a seemingly self-absorbing but ultimately envious and ambitious security guard.
Along with the 2006 domestic box-office hit Crazy Stone (d. Ning Hao), a black comedy about three thieves’ failed attempt to steal a valuable jade from a loyal but physically troubled guard, Curiosity represents a fresh and healthy trend as Chinese cinema enters its post-centennial era. First of all, the film is another proof that China can produce quality contemporary dramas (in contrast to period dramas like Curse of the Golden Flower and The Banquet) on a par with any other countries, despite the annoying hurdles of censorship. Secondly, the issue of quality scripts and smart storytelling, because of the success of these films, has increasingly become a shared concern for filmmakers and producers alike. Thirdly, the idea of films more or less falling into certain categories and China’s cinematic “takeoff” relying very much on the rehabilitation and creation of genre films is gradually taking roots in the Chinese film community. Because of these, Curiosity deserves a special round of applause.