Trap Street (2013)

Director:  Vivian Qu
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.

Genre:  Drama / Mystery
Awards:  Critics' Week (Venice).
Runtime:  93min
Rating:  PG

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 na├»ve 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-governmental. 

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.

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


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