Review by Luke Carberry
Everyone loves a good mystery, which is why it’s such a pleasant surprise to find that Baoping Cao’s The Equation of Love & Death holds you in a tight a grip from the outset. Unfortunately, not even the wonderful Xun Zhao can maintain the tension for the entire length of the film and it’s only a matter of time before Cao’s latest effort drops the ball.
Xun Zhao plays Li-Mi, a cab driver who has been searching for her missing boyfriend for the past four years. One day she unknowingly picks up two small-time crooks in the back of her cab. As she runs off to fetch their change the two men become impatient and find a magazine in the back seat which Li-Mi has been using to store photos of her lost love. They take it as payment and run off to find their contact who happens to be sitting on a busy overpass. After delivering a poetic monologue the man falls and lands on a car below. The driver immediately leaves his vehicle to check on the man, when he finds Li-Mi’s stolen magazine lying next to him. To his surprise the photos inside appear to be of himself, and in turn this leads to a connected series of events unfolding.
The Equation of Love & Death opens with such cryptic and alluring dynamism, as the charismatic Zhou puffs on a cigarette and hints at what’s to come. The script instantly has you second-guessing it, and thanks to some fast cuts and kinetic editing it’s not an easy job. You’re given very little to work with as the initial characters aren’t instantly equipped with a back story, which only adds to the increasing level of wonder. It’s fortunate that the film opens with such promise as it just about guarantees you’ll be watching until the end.
This is of great importance, because as the film reaches the second act things start to change quite drastically. As the opening trail which revolves around two criminals gets ditched in order to attach a stronger tether to Zhou’s character it seems as though Cao becomes determined in making this a personal tale, rather than sticking to the path he chose at the beginning which encompassed a fair number of characters with strong narrative potential. As a result Zhou is left to carry the film almost single-handedly; a task she’s more than capable of, but it’s a some what bad move on the director’s part. Centering the story around Zhou alone makes things far more linear, as the complexity of the early storytelling is lost and Cao struggles to keep the twists exciting and unpredictable. Therefore the final revelations aren’t nearly as shocking as you might expect.
Despite this, Zhou manages to hold the audience’s attention throughout and is pretty much a life saver as far as the film is concerned. Supplying the rest of the cast with stony-faced and uncommunicative roles only helps to amplify Zhou‘s electric presence. Her determination and constant energy carry the deteriorating plot and sub-par emotional elements to new heights. In fact it seems as though this is where the problem truly lies - in having these two key values evenly severed. Cao sacrifices the story in order to support the drama and vice versa. Leaving the whole thing on a level playing field, meaning there is nothing left to push the film other than Zhou’s huge performance.
The Equation of Love & Death is at times an admirable little thriller, but Cao’s lack of focus cripples the pace and hinders the intensity you get to sample early on. Having said that, thanks to the always committed and ever surprising Xun Zhou the film offers an enjoyable ninety minutes despite its many shortcomings. Keeping in mind that this is only Cao’s second solo feature it’s definitely fair to say that there’s a lot of potential on display.
Director: Baoping Cao
Writer: Baoping Cao
Producers: Siu Ming Tsui, Zhongjun Wang
Starring: Xun Zhao, Chao Deng, Hanyu Zhang, Baoqiang Wang, Yanhui Wang, Ning Wang
Year of Release: 2008
September 13, 2009, 8:48pm Comments