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Trap Street
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by Jay Seaver

"Today, every street can be a trap."
4 stars

SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2014: A trap street is a non-existent road placed on a map so that cartographers will be able to tell when competitors have copied their work rather than surveying the area independently. It's not a common term in film noir, but it certainly could be - how many of these movies have been named for some location that ensnares good people in a web of deceit and danger? While this movie ("Shuiyun jie" in Mandarin) doesn't look much like a traditional entry in that genre, it's what those movies become when transplanted to twenty-first century China.

Nanjing, specifically, where Li Qiuming (Lu Yulai) is a trainee at a surveying firm, working with Zhang Sheng (You Yong) to gather GPS data for a digital map. At the corner of Forest Lane, he meets Guan Lifen (He Wenchao), and is smitten right away. It seems like just a simple meet-cute, except that the system won't accept the coordinates for Forest Lane, Lifen works for something called "Lab 203", and Qiuming earns extra money working with his roommates doing freelance work detecting and installing surveillance equipment.

When director Vivian Qu submitted the script to China's censorship bureau, it was as a love story, and it actually works well along those lines during the first half - Qiuming is an upbeat young guy going after a girl out of his league, and Lifen quickly comes across as friendly even if she does sort of look past Qiuming in their initial encounters. And while the story requires Lifen to be somewhat mysterious as just sophisticated enough to be difficult for Qiuming to connect with, he at least is given a broad cast of supporting characters - parents, roommates, co-workers - for supplying encouragement and advice which he won't necessarily heed. It's cute, charming, and often very funny.

And then something happens which turns the whole thing on its head, as a seemingly innocuous event leads to Qiuming being detained and interrogated, and from there, what humor is left goes from light to dark. Qu zeroes in on the circular logic of "we only investigate the guilty", as well as the contradiction in how secrets, free-flowing information, and surveillance by both government agencies and private individuals are all trying to exist at once. She positions Qiuming as a member of the younger generation that takes communication and openness for granted, even in a place like China, and the idea that a place like Forest Lane can exist - that it can be right there where everyone can see it but people will act like it's not there - shakes him to the core. From a certain point on, paranoia becomes the default setting of the film, as any shot where the vantage point doesn't move might be from a spy camera, and even the monkeys in the park seem to be hiding from something. Suspicion sticks to everyone, as the accused loses the trust of others and even the ability to enjoy what had made him happy before.

Lu Yulai does a fine job of showing how that change affects Qiuming; he's a cheerful goof in the beginning even though we can see that he's not completely carefree, and he's able to chip away the right pieces of that until we see what's left of him at the end. Zhao Xiaofei and Hou Yong make interesting contrasts as Qiuming's stern father and his understanding but more experienced mentor at the surveying firm. And while He Wenchao certainly doesn't play Lifen as any sort of femme fatale, at least not overtly, there's something reserved about her that can work as both the sort of mystery that pulls a man in and the potential for being part of something dangerous.

"Trap Street" is seldom hard-boiled or particularly twisty; by the time it ends, it is arguably still a love story, if not the type that it starts out as. It's also a surprisingly universal one - surveillance and secrecy are the main tools of control everywhere, and the inherent contradiction exacerbated by the too-human people involved is always going to make for an interesting conflict.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=25990&reviewer=371
originally posted: 04/27/14 12:29:07
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Vancouver International Film Festival For more in the 2013 Vancouver International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Miami International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Miami International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Nashville Film Festival For more in the 2014 Nashville Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Independent Film Festival Boston For more in the 2014 Independent Film Festival Boston series, click here.

User Comments

5/06/14 Fzvbgchn Set in China's Iwate prefecture where thousands of people from the Big Suffering.I have had 5 stars
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Directed by
  Vivian Qu

Written by
  Vivian Qu

  Yulai Lu
  Wenchao He
  Yong Hou
  Xiaofei Zhao
  Tiejian Liu
  Xinghong Li

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