#MeToo tale blurs line between fantasy, reality

REVIEW / THRILLER

NINA WU (M18)

103 minutes/Opens today/3.5 stars

The story: Nina (Wu Ke-hsi) is a struggling actress who finally gets her big break in a spy espionage thriller after eight years of bit parts, though the role requires her to get naked in a risque sex scene. In making the movie – and amid the critical success that follows – Nina’s mental state grows increasingly frayed.

A psychological thriller for the #MeToo era that manages to maintain a high level of tension throughout, Myanmar-born Taiwanese director Midi Z makes sure Nina Wu will leave audiences uncomfortable and disoriented, even though its story – which blurs the line between dreams and reality – is reminiscent of works before it.

The film was previously screened here as part of the Singapore International Film Festival and nabbed Best Sound Effects at the Golden Horse Awards last year.

Wu, Midi Z’s long-time muse, plays the titular Nina with an unnerving intensity and the message of the film is strong from the get-go.

Early in the movie, Nina’s manager gives her the script for a leading role in a spy thriller – which includes a bold sex scene – and subtly manipulates her into taking on the fully nude scene.

He dismisses Nina’s request that they discuss the scene with the director and offers her a false binary: either take on the role as it is or skip the audition entirely.

This sets the tone for the movie, as Nina is repeatedly made to suppress her discomfort and concerns for the sake of art and her one chance at a big break.

The director of the film within a film blatantly abuses and humiliates her, and it is painful to watch.

In the meantime, Nina’s personal life starts to fall apart, with family troubles, dark dreams and a nameless nemesis who appears and vanishes as Nina slips between hallucinations and reality.

A clever casting choice is made here, with Kimi Hsia playing the mysterious nemesis while Vivian Sung plays Kiki, Nina’s former lover with whom she is desperate to reconnect.

The two Taiwanese actresses, Hsia and Sung, can easily play twins without anyone batting an eyelid – and this resemblance adds to the film’s disorienting energy.

But the brand of storytelling which asks “is this real life or is this just fantasy” feels a little old, given how it has been done before in films such as Black Swan (2010), Mulholland Drive (2001) and cult anime classic Perfect Blue (1997), which are about artists who grow mentally disturbed.

It is clearly a personal film, though – Wu, who co-wrote the screenplay with Midi Z, has shared her experiences of on-set humiliation before.

Perhaps that is why the film has little interest in developing any character aside from Nina.

Still, it is a worthy effort and an oppressively ominous ride, best characterised by a blood-red dress that shows up again and again as the movie inches towards its climax and the secret behind Nina’s mental breakdown.

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