D: Vivian Qu / 93m
Cast: Yulai Lu, Wenchao He, Yong Hou, Xiaofei Zhao, Tiejian Liu, Xinghong Li
One of the few independent Chinese films to be made last year – and yet to be seen by China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (the movie industry’s governing body) – Trap Street starts off as an agreeable and potentially predictable romantic drama, as Qiuming (Lu) meets Lifen (He) and they begin a relationship. Lifen, though, is often gone for days at a time and acts mysteriously as well. Eventually, Qiuming discovers that Lifen works at a secret government laboratory, and the real idea behind the movie begins to show itself. When a pair of USB sticks that belong where Lifen works, end up in Qiuming’s hands for a while, the authorities react by keeping Lifen in a hotel for a couple of days and grilling him over it. Despite not accessing the USB sticks, the authorities refuse to believe he’s left them unaccessed or uncopied. Can Qiuming convince them of his innocence, or will he be arrested and charged with domestic terrorism?
This situation – an individual being detained by the police for 2-3 days without being charged or even formally arrested, and then let go – is increasingly common in modern-day China, and even happened to a friend of one of the crew members shortly after the movie was made. Why this happens so often no-one knows, but it makes for an interesting and absorbing movie, and shows the aftermath of denial and paranoia that all too often accompanies the detainment. Along with a pertinent assessment of the various ways technology allows us to interact with each other on a variety of emotional levels, Trap Street is an intelligent, thought-provoking movie that holds a mirror up to contemporary Chinese culture, and shows that, despite recent openings up to Western influences, there is still a very strict political machine in place that governs people’s lives. Vivian Qu, whose first feature this is, directs with skill and an eye for off-kilter framings that accentuate the odd things taking place. On this evidence, any future movies she chooses to make will be well worth watching.
Rating: 8/10 – a confident approach to the material keeps the viewer engrossed from beginning to end; good performances and an incisive script make Trap Street well worth checking out.