Haixian (2001)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Psychological Drama  |   Run Time - 84 min.  |   Countries - China  |  
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Review by Tom Vick

Shot on digital video in the resort town of Beidaihe (famous for being the place where Mao Zedong took his vacations), Zhu Wen's Seafood is an increasingly brutal cat-and-mouse game between a sadistic policeman and the prostitute he is trying to prevent from killing herself. At the beginning of the film, Cheng Taisheng's policeman Deng comes across as a good-hearted eccentric trying to save Jinzi's Xiao through his own version of tough love. But once he discovers that she is a prostitute, he rapes her in a scene that is shocking both for its explicitness and for the sudden cruelty it reveals in him. Like the characters in Jim Thompson's more harrowing novels, he's a small-town psychotic whose guileless, friendly appearance masks an unfathomably twisted mind. Even keeping Xiao alive is a sadistic act for him. When she begins to see his dark side, she soon abandons the suicide idea anyway and tries to get out of town, but he uses his power as a police officer to thwart her every attempt, even going so far as to pull over a bus she has boarded. Deng, it turns out, is using her to his own surprising and self-destructive ends. The effect of her being trapped is heightened throughout the film by Zhu's handheld camera, which dogs her as relentlessly as Deng does. With her dark glasses and cosmopolitan clothes, she stands out against the frigid, snow-covered landscape, as if there's simply nowhere for her to hide. A coda which follows Xiao as she finally makes it back to Beijing functions as a deliberately ambiguous metaphor for her redemption, as she and a fellow prostitute try to pass a counterfeit bill from a customer who was apparently just as sick as Deng.