Lunar Eclipse



(aka Yue Shi)
China 1999 : Wang Quan’an : 94 mins

I lasted an hour of Lunar Eclipse before walking out – but that isn’t to say the film isn’t worth watching. It was in the middle of the Berlin Film Festival and I was a bit ‘filmed out’: sixty minutes was quite enough. It was also plain that close attention needed to be paid to the story – according to the official catalogue, “Newlyweds Ya Nan (Yu Nan) and Guohao (Hu Xiaoguang) are out for a drive when they meet a young photographer, Xiaobing (Wu Chao), who says he once knew a girl who looked just like Ya Nan. A few days later, Xiaobing calls Ya Nan and asks if he can give her photos he secretly took of her on the day they met. Sje asks him about the girl he said looked like her, and he begins telling her the story of Jia Niang.”

From then on it all gets very complicated, with identities constantly in flux, and various flashbacks interweaving with – and contradicting – each other. The pace is mostly slow, but with the occasional spurt of excitement, such as the scene where various characters ride a motorbike around a courtyard. There’s also a nice moment when Xiaobing takes his father’s photo, right in the middle of the eclipse that gives the film its title – as the shutter falls, the old man dies.

From my notebook: “Takes forever to get going, and only clicks into gear when photographer’s retrospective story takes over – nice effect with couple sitting in a car, neon lights of street gradually climbing up their windscreen like flames. Spend day in country – strong visual impact of huge plains, straw on fire. Motorbike sidecar at evening – alien world of Chinese countryside. But never less than uneven, hard to persevere with soporific, up & down script. A few OK directorial touches, a few bits of the story are interesting, but doesn’t really cohere. Good performance from photographer.”

17th March, 2002
(seen 13th February, Cinemaxx Berlin – Berlin Film Festival)

by Neil Young
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