Review: Brutal reminder of sins of the past

Lv Zhong as the prickly mother with her sons Qin Hao (left) and Feng Yuanzheng (right). -- PHOTO: GOLDENVILLAGE
Lv Zhong as the prickly mother with her sons Qin Hao (left) and Feng Yuanzheng (right). -- PHOTO: GOLDENVILLAGE

Review Drama

RED AMNESIA (PG13)

110 minutes/Opens tomorrow/ 3/5

The story: Old Deng (Lv Zhong) lives alone after the death of her husband. Her elder son Jun (Feng Yuanzheng) has a family of his own while her younger son Bing (Qin Hao) has a male lover,

a fact she does not approve of. She begins to get harassed by phone calls from someone who never says a word. Meanwhile, there is an intruder breaking into homes in her neighbourhood.

Is there any connection between the two things? And why does she keep seeing a teenage boy around?

Boon Chan

This is an intriguing shape-shifter of a movie. It seems at first to be a portrayal of contemporary China society, warts and all.

Age-old values of filial piety and respect for the elderly are put to the test in today's bustling cities. Nursing homes are packed to the brim, even drawing long lines as beds need to be reserved in advance. Deng's mother is in a home and she herself does not wish to be a burden to her children.

Prickly and hard to get along with, she cannot see eye-to-eye with her daughter-in-law (Qin Hailu) and disapproves of the fact that her younger son is gay.

Stage and screen actress Lv Chong is excellent, conveying Deng's pride, resilience and vulnerability in equal measure, in the process making the character sympathetic.

Writer-director Wang Xiaoshuai (Beijing Bicycle, 2001) has more up his sleeve, though. The Chinese title Chuangruzhe, which means intruder, points to the mystery-thriller part of the film.

Questions start piling up: Who is the teenage boy lounging about in different apartments? Who is making nuisance phone calls to Deng? Why does she feel guilty?

Then the film takes another turn, seemingly towards a ghost story of sorts. Or is Deng losing her grip on reality?

The different threads start coming together when she returns to Guizhou where she and her family were stationed during the tumultuous years of the Cultural Revolution, a sensitive period Wang had previously dealt with in the dramas Shanghai Dreams (2005) and 11 Flowers (2011).

As the sins of her past are revealed, she gets cast in a new light and one's sympathy for her is put to the test. Red Amnesia's unusual structure can be frustrating at times, but it might well mean that you will not be forgetting this movie in a hurry.