Letter from an Unknown Woman (Yi ge mo sheng nu ren de lai xin) [2004] • China • Xu Jinglei

Xu Jinglei, may I have some more, please? This film really excites me about Xu Jinglei. The directorial hand is very mature and accomplished. The film has a great period look and feel to it. The cinematography by Lee Pin Bing is gorgeous and I’m sure that helped. The acting is all quite good. Strange, then, to have to say that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy the movie. Again, as with Xu's directorial debut, My Father and I, it's the story that let me down. I know it's an old story, one I haven't read nor seen any previous adaptations of, but I think I can say that while it might look good on paper, in outline form, it doesn't fare very well in this particular presentation.

There may be some cultural nuances that were lost on me, and I do have to say that the subtitles that came with the film were really, really bad. The character development didn't seem secure enough for me to accept the first disappearance of the writer after the initial affair. Frankly, it shocked me. I went along with it for the sake of the story, but it left me twitching a little. Then when they meet again and the writer doesn't recognize the woman, I lost it. I can accept not recognizing someone with a different hairdo eight years later passing them on the street but once you've gotten to the naughty bits, I don't buy it. I imagine this is all nit-picky to a story about the sadness of an extremely one-sided love affair, but I wanted something to assure me that this one-sided love was warranted and I didn't get it.

I would recommend this film to anyone who enjoys a good love story. It's a beautiful film, and if you're not a lion in the tall grass, stalking, just waiting to pounce, like me, when you think that Xu Jinglei has failed in her exposition, the story is probably pretty good too. Stories for movies often come from outside sources but it ultimately falls on the director to tell the story in a convincing manner. Xu Jinglei, I'm officially a fanboy. Get to work.


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