Director Lou Ye’s intriguing but exasperating drama focuses on criminal undertakings with overblown results

Lou Ye is a Chinese director who has courageously challenged the authorities, receiving bans and rebukes from a Beijing establishment nonetheless wary of their troublemaker’s international prominence at film festivals. This is probably most true of his 2006 movie, Summer Palace, that tackled the great taboo: Tiananmen Square. Latterly though, he seems to be drawn to the noir-melodrama mode, simmering emotions and criminal secrets incubated in the vast new megacities which China has been building. That was true of his aptly titled 2012 film, Mystery, and it’s true of his initially intriguing, but ultimately exasperating, overlong and borderline preposterous new mystery drama-thriller, set in Guangzhou, southern China, whose scary vastness Ye establishes in his opening shots.

Perhaps Ye took inspiration from screenwriter Robert Towne’s final line from Roman Polanski’s famous film: “Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown.” The audience may be tempted to forget about this film way before the closing credits, although by the time we finally grind through to the end – zigzagging wearyingly between flashbacks and flashforwards – a solution to the mystery is offered, although the film could have presented this reveal and its buildup more satisfyingly in a film that was 20 minutes shorter.

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