Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Movies and their industry -- Taiwanese-style -- in Midi Z/Ke-Xi Wu's based-on-life NINA WU

The casting couch evidently has its own peculiar incarnation just about everywhere, east and west, so long as a country has an "entertainment industry." In NINA WU, the new film from the prolific (14 films over the past 11 years) Myanmar-born/Taiwan-trained filmmaker known as Midi Z (shown below), that couch turns out to be the floor -- not merely degrading but fucking uncomfortable. With its story co-written by Mr. Z and his star (on whose life this tale is said to be based), Wu Ke-Xiu, the story is deliberately and extremely fractured so  

that viewers, just when we think we've got our bearings, must rearrange all over again, separating fantasy from reality, life from the movies, not to mention figuring who is who and what in hell they might have to do with this or that.

It's a challenge, all right, but whether or not it is worth all the work was a question I had to ask myself as Nina Wu concluded with a pivotal scene that very well could have begun the movie but instead brings it to a close with one of those ah-hah moments in which you'll murmur,  "So this is what it was all about!"

Because the movie is so constantly in flow -- back and forth, real and unreal -- I took many less notes than usual, not wanting to miss a thing by looking even briefly away from the screen. The odd notes I did jot and now refer to read something like: full-frontal sex scene, The Little Prince, movie-about-a-movie, the audition process, family debt, catfight and dog murder. And that's barely the half of it.

The story involves our heroine, Wu's Ke-Xi and the titular Nina (above and further above), being initially shamed/guilted/enticed by her agent (above, left) into taking a leading role in a movie that will require a full-frontal sex scene. Since she already has an online site in which she evidently does plenty of naughty stuff semi-publicly, anyway, I am not sure just how big a deal this scene would be. Yet it clearly somehow is.

Nina Wu
certainly addresses our current Me Too times, as well as the usual industry sleaze, the ego-idiocy of film directors, the vulnerability of young (or not so) actresses, the alternately stupid and would-be-caring attitude of mainstream media, and lots more, but the film's fractured style barely gives us a chance to identify and hold on to something before we're whisked on to something new/else.

Ms Wu is striking and alternately appealing and confused in her role, but only a couple of supporting characters are given enough weight to actually involve us (one of which is another auditioning actress, played by Kimi Hsia. above, right). Recommending the movie means also warning your audience to expect a whole lot of jimmying to what is basically, in so many ways, a rather standard plot. But if you're a style-over-substance connoisseur, Nina Wu may be just your thing. (The visuals in this one are often impressive indeed!)

From Film Movement, in Mandarin with English subtitles, and running 103 minutes, Nina Wu hits theaters this Friday, March 26, (click here and scroll down for venues) while also making a special debut as part of a retrospective of the work of Midi Z taking place at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, NY, beginning March 26 and running through April 11. Click the retrospective link above to see the entire program and for information on how to purchase tickets to this -- and to the other five films of the celebrated Mr. Z.

No comments: