The Locked Door
China/Hong Kong, 2012, colour, 2.35:1, 82 mins.
Directors: Zhao Zhiping 赵治平, He Wenliang 何文凉.
Well-composed but dramatically bloodless drama centred on a small-town single mother.
Taicang township, on the outskirts of Shanghai, 1930. After prospering in the US, Jin Ren (Yang Zi) returns to his hometown to reunite with his fiancee, Yan Wen (Huang Shengyi), eldest daughter of a Chinese medicinist (Yong Junyuan). After dining with her whole family, Jin Ren goes off to gamble and drink with his old friend Wei Wei (Hu Ming) and forgets to pick up Yan Wen, who is waiting for him at the family shop. News spreads that Yan Wen has been raped by a homeless drunk, Gouzi (Sun Zuyang), though she explains to Jin Ren that “it was not quite like that”. He flees to Shanghai and the tramp is jailed for rape. Later Yan Wen finds she’s pregnant, but when she goes to tell Jin Ren the news she finds him with another woman. She gives birth to a son, Yunlou (Sun Tianyu). Six years later, news arrives that Yan Wen has married. After coming into an inheritance from his dead uncle, the tramp, whose real name is Zhang Tian, is released from prison, smartens himself up, and offers to look after Yan Wen and her son in a large house on the edge of town that is now his. Yan Wen finally agrees – and while there discovers the secret of Zhang Tian’s background in a locked room.
Shot in early 2010 under the title 绝恋 (literally “Grief”), from a script by US-born, onetime Shanghai resident J. Nathaniel Berke, The Locked Door 女人如花 emerges two years later as a borderline arty curio that’s always good to look at – in a well-composed, rather academic way – but is as dramatically bloodless as its cool, wintry photography. A fairly standard tale of a suffering single mother in a gossipy 1930s township near Shanghai, the film has as its main attraction actress-singer Huang Shengyi 黄圣依, who shot to fame in Kung Fu Hustle 功夫 (2004) but, after plenty of TV dramas, only got her second big-screen break seven years later in Its Love 白蛇传说 (2011, aka The Sorcerer and the White Snake), which showcased her vampy appeal.
In Door, made before but released after Snake, Huang makes a very mild impression playing strong but silent. She’s not helped by the directing style, which favours short sequences separated by fade-outs, or the relative lack of dialogue. (Direction is credited in the main titles to [TV director] Zhao Zhiping 赵治平, but in the end titles also to journeyman He Wenliang 何文凉.) As her faithless fiance, Yang Zi 杨子 (also head of co-producer Juli Film & TV Media) is briefly OK; as the man who gives her a second life, Sun Zuyang 孙祖杨, who played alongside Huang in The Fantastic Water Babes 出水芙蓉 (2010), is likeable but gets little to work with in the script, which is often oblique to the point of incomprehensibility. The brief running time also shows signs of late cutting.
The music score by the prolific Bian Liunian 卞留念 adds emotion and drama whenever it appears, but still can’t animate a static production. The film’s Chinese title means “Women Are Like Flowers”. [Actor Yang Zi, who is also Huang Shengyi’s husband, is not to be confused with identically named Mainland director Yang Zi 杨子, aka Larry Yang.]
Presented by Nanjing Film Studio (CN), Singing Well Productions (HK), Juli Film & TV Media (CN), Zhejiang Bird of Paradise Culture Communication (CN).
Script: J. Nathaniel Berke. Script translation: Li Jiexiu. Photography: Wang Yi. Editing: Zhou Xinxia. Editing advice: Wayne Wahrman. Music: Bian Liunian, Zhao Zhao. Song: Bian Liunian, Zhao Anhua. Art direction: Shan Zhou, Jin Zhongan. Costume design: Chen Minzheng. Sound: Zhang Wen, Du Jiansheng.
Cast: Huang Shengyi (Yan Wen), Yang Zi (Jin Ren), Sun Zuyang (Zhang Tian/Gouzi), Sun Tianyu (Yunlou, Yan Wen’s son), Hu Ming (Wei Wei, Jin Ren’s friend), Yong Junyuan (Yan Wen’s father), Xu Songzi (Yan Wen’s mother), Yin Youchen (Yan Qing, Yan Wen’s younger sister), Wang Kuirong (Zhang Guoting), Li Man (Xu Qiao), Wang Weixiang (Hu Li, Wei Wei’s wife), Liu Hengnong, Yang Jinsong (gamblers), Wang Xiaobo (policeman), Bian Meiling (midwife), Xin Meini (Mrs. Chen), Wang Ke (Miss Li), Wei Zihan (tough kid), Gao Jun (Zhang Guoting’s servant), Liu Qinglong (warden), Cui Yue (nurse), Qiao Shan (prisoner), Zi Ye (salesgirl), Yang Guiqing (puppet player), Yin Ji (Jin Ren’s girl), Guo Peng (Jin Ren’s driver), An Wenli (customer).
Release: China, 8 Mar 2012.
(Review originally published on Film Business Asia, 10 Jul 2012.)