Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Left Ear

There are Chinese movies which slip into American theaters under the radar, and there are things like this, which appears to have opened in Boston on the 8th but which didn't show up on the theater's website when I was checking it late on the 7th, and wasn't on the MoviePass app when I finally saw it listed on another site/app during the week. I almost wonder if it didn't start until Monday the 11th, when the theater decided that they could cut down on just how many screens were showing Avengers: Age of Ultron.

It got bounced around a bit when I went to see it on Friday as well; the listings all said 6:55, but when I got there, it was scheduled for 7:15, since they had apparently decided to put Mad Max: Fury Road on another screen during the afternoon. In fact, that time was cutting it pretty close (I'm guessing they didn't figure the typical twenty-minute trailer package in when rescheduling), as Fury Road was still playing when I went in the door that said "Now Seating: The Left Ear" at 6:50, and the previous movie didn't get out until about 7:14. On the one hand, great for Mad Max exceeding demand, but I was worried for a moment that I was going to be in the same situation as that whiny story getting a lot of shares/retweets about a theater cancelling a screening of Ex Machina to which they had sold two tickets so that they could sell 200 Avengers tickets. Not the case - there were a couple dozen people for this one - but I wonder if it happened earlier in the day.

No trailers, so I couldn't see what other Chinese movies are on the way in the near future. Seeing that, once again, we didn't get the new Donnie Yen one, I bet Police Story: Lockdown is out of the question, and there don't seem to be many others on the schedule.

Zuo Er (The Left Ear)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 15 May 2015 in Regal Fenway #9 (first-run, DCP)

Even after reading a description of this movie that I thought might give too much away and seeing the dedication at the start, I spent a good chunk of The Left Ear thinking it was going to be something else, something far more pulpy or at least soapy than the earnest narration about how Li Er is deaf in that ear but that since it is closest to the heart, tradition holds that she will know if someone whispers "I love you" in that ear. It eventually settles into the youthful drama it was meant to be, and I suppose it works well enough that way, though I'd kind of like to see director Alec Su make the oddball movie he seems to start with.

As this one starts, it's 2005 and Li Er (Chen Duling) is 17, a hundred days away from her college exams in coastal Chinese city Tianyi. She's got a crush on classmate Xu Yi (Yang Yang) and bikes to school every day with doting cousin You Ta (Hu Xia). On the other side of town, dropout Li Bala (Ma Sichun) is about the same age and singing in seedy bars. She's got a thing for Xu Yi's basketball teammate Zhang Yang (Ou Hao), despite kind of being with gangster Hei Ren (Duan Bowen) and Zhang already having a rich girlfriend in Jiang Jiao (Guan Xiaotong), but Zhang says he'll be with her if she ruins Xu Yi first. And yet, unexpectedly, good girl Li Er and bad girl Li Bala become close friends.

Femmes fatales, gangsters, and revenge plots - there are moments when the first chunk of The Left Ear almost feels like a Chinese version of Rian Johnson's high-school noir Brick. The filmmakers don't commit to that path the way Johnson's does, but even when it becomes more like a year of a high-school soap compressed into two hours, it's an enjoyably salacious alternative to the more nostalgic high school movies that seem to be more common than present-day ones in the Chinas (at least in terms of what crosses the Pacific). Even when the film does become that later on, it drains a bit of the maudlin sentimentality off.

Full review on EFC.

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