Film review: Caught in the Web

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 December, 2012, 4:32pm

Starring: Gao Yuanyuan, Wang Xueqi, Yao Chen, Chen Hong
Director: Chen Kaige
Category: IIA (Putonghua)

At some point in our lives, while on a car or on board a bus, tram or train, we will have witnessed inconsiderate behaviour on the part of a fellow commuter that caused us to look askance at the offending party and even wish the person ill.

Even so, chances are that those who view director Chen Kaige's Caught in the Web will have some sympathy for its main protagonist: a well-dressed young woman named Ye Lanqiu (Gao Yuanyuan) who is caught on video refusing to give up her seat on a bus to an old man by trainee television news reporter Yang Jiaqi (May Wang Luodan, above left with Yao Chen).

For unlike the other bus passengers that fateful morning, the film's viewers have been made privy to the fact that the outwardly healthy looking white collar worker had found out earlier that day that she has late stage lymphatic cancer and requires prohibitively expensive medical treatment. And it's while Lanqiu was still digesting the shocking news and on her way to the office to ask her boss for a loan of a million yuan as well as emergency leave that the chief personal assistant to Shen Liushu (Wang Xueqi), the high-powered head of an elite executive training company, behaved uncharacteristically badly.

But rather than investigate what prompted Lanqiu's behaviour, Jiaqi prioritises showing the video she recorded on her smartphone to Chen Ruoxi (Yao Chen), her ambitious boss who decides to give it prime air time. Overnight, an internet storm is ignited and the "Sunglasses Girl" - as Lanqiu gets known to the world at large - becomes the number one topic of Chinese netizens.

Densely-plotted and replete with interesting details, China's nominee for next year's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar is a very modern social drama about cyberspace character assassination. The complex story doesn't only involve Lanqiu, her boss, Jiaqi, and Ruoxi, but also draws in the boss's jealous wife (Chen Hong) and Yang Shoucheng (Mark Chao Yu-ting), the under-employed cousin of Jiaqi who happens to be Ruoxi's boyfriend.

Adapted from Wen Yu's web novel Human Flesh Search, this thought-provoking film benefits from a sure hand at its helm and strong performances by the ensemble cast. Perhaps having so many good thespians to work with might have caused its veteran auteur to include more scenes with all of them than was absolutely necessary. For despite being pretty fast paced, the generally absorbing movie still is on the lengthy side at 121 minutes - and its denouement can feel overly drawn out as well as too pat to truly satisfy.

Caught in the Web opens today