Review of Perpetual Motion (无穷动；China, 2005), A Beijing Happy Village production. (International sales: Beijing Happy Village)
Director: Ning Ying
Producers: Ning Ying
Executive Producer: Francesco Cosentino
Screenwriter: Ning Ying, Liu Sola, Hung Huang
Editor: Ning Ying
Music: Liu Sola
Cinematographer: Andrea Cavazzuti, Ning Ying (DV-to-35mm)
Art Director: Yang Xiaoping
Cast: Hung Huang, Liu Sola, Li Qinqin, Ping Yanni, Zhang Hanzhi
Running time: 85 MIN.
Release in China: 2005.
Shaoyi’s Rating: C (Below average)
Trained at the Beijing Film Academy and the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Rome, and later hired as an assistant director on Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor (1987), Ning Ying emerged in the early and mid-1990s as a promising Beijing-based independent director thanks to the much acclaimed works For Fun (1992) and On the Beat (1995). The well-controlled pace and subtle sarcasm, compounded by a conscious use of long tracking shots, helped define a distinctive female voice in contemporary Chinese cinema. This distinctiveness, however, is largely lost in Ning’s most recent production Perpetual Motion.
The film is shot almost entirely in the confinement of a typical Beijing siheyuan (walled courtyard house), where the main character Niu Niu (Hung Huang), a well-off magazine editor, lives. Middle aged and no longer confident about her look, Niu Niu gets up one morning to find her husband missing. She is suspicious of him having an affair with one of her close female friends. Determined to find out whom her husband is sleeping with, she invites all the “usual suspects,” three in total, to the New Year’s dinner she hosts at home. The guessing game starts with a comically rendered chicken-feet “feast,” followed by a tricky mah-jongg game, during which the loser is to make confessions about her love affairs. As the audience expects this scenario to continue after Qinqin makes her “confession,” however, the narrative suddenly takes a sharp turn to a dark attic where three women start to reminisce their youthful days during the Cultural Revolution. The film at this point begins to lose its focus, and the characters’ random reference to a changing China becomes more and more pointless. Their supposedly humorous dialogues never get crossed, sometimes even making them laughable. We are even not certain about whether we should take it seriously when Lala (composer Liu Sola) is said to be sent to a mental hospital. The film ends with a call from the police saying that Niu Niu’s husband died in a car crash with an 18-year-old girl sitting by his side.
Perpetual Motion is marketed as an “avant-garde” “feminist” film in China, and the director also seems to work toward that direction, but to this reviewer it is neither “avant-garde” nor “feminist,” only a reminder that an established filmmaker could still go wrong if he/she is not careful enough with decision-making. Technically, because it was first shot on DV and later transferred to 35mm, the film looks flat and shallow, lacking layered details. Sound is poorly done, and only Li Qinqin comes out as a convincing character. The long tracking shot of the three women walking on the street in the end, however, salvages the film from being a complete disaster.