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MR ZHAO

China / Hong Kong, 1998 (MIFF 1999, Regional Features)

Director: Lu Yue

Winner of the Grand Prize at last year's Locarno Film Festival, Mr Zhao relates the romantic entangle­ments of the gentleman of the title. A low-key charmer, Zhao is magnetically attracted to women of all kinds, without any thought for consequences. The film opens with Zhao, a Shanghai doctor, being tailed to a girl­friend's home by his wife. This segues into two extend­ed conversations between mistress and spouse, Zhao placating both with empty assurances.

Far from being a roguish Casanova, Zhao is very lik­able and seems to fall into relationships rather than scheme to seduce. Flashbacks detailing meetings are imbued with touching detail and the blossoming of romance is delightful—viewer find themselves empathising with Zhao, a man eager to help and please rather than cause heartache. Complications arise, scaled alongside Zhao's wife's anger at his infidelity, her impending retrenchment and a startling revelation by his student girlfriend.

Although it maintains an elliptical, scenes-from-a-life structure, with the passage of time left open to audi­ence interpretation, the film broadens out as conflict pro­pels it toward an unexpected conclusion .Considering Lu Yue's varied but always striking portfolio as a director of photography—credits include On the Hunting Ground, Buddha's Lock, Soul of a Painter and Keep Cool—and the fact that much of the dialogue was improvised, Mr Zhao is a model of restraint both from a visual and per­formance point of view.

Structurally bold, this fine film concentrates on portraying contemporary relationships in an authentic but always cinematic way.

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