Ye Lou's ninth feature BLIND MASSAGE is the winner of BEST FEATURE FILM in Golden Horse Awards last year, and yes, it you are a sucker for pan-Chinese cinema scenes, it is a big deal. And before that it won a Silver Berlin Bear for its innovative cinematography for its DP Jian Zeng. Why innovative? Since the film is an ensemble piece revolves around a group of blind people who work in a massage parlour (no hidden agenda intended, it is a bona- fide service for massages only) in Nanjing, China, thus the film creates a distinct subjective angle when it conveys from the perspective of the blind, altering luminosity, frosting the shots and adjusting the coloration, particularly in a pivotal sequence when an equivocal miracle transpires, it is certainly a novelty to meet the eyes, but not essentially a groundbreaking stunt to be visually paradigm-shifting.
Among the cluster of the cast, Lou mixes professional actors with real-life blind (or half- blind) people, therefore, it is quite challenging for the actors who are acting their blindness with authentic samples. Also, blindness has nuances between inborn and acquired, so judging from the cover, Qin has done a convincing job as the inborn blind co-owner of the parlour, Fuming Sha, whose first name literally means "regain sight" in Chinese, and he exerts great physical endeavour to feign his blindness with great verisimilitude; Xuan Huang plays Xiao Ma, whose blindness is caused by a car accident and now a tenderfoot in the line of work, brilliantly grabs the centre stage with his searing engagement of a young boy who is constantly plagued by his sexual urge and finds solace in a working girl Xiao Man (Lu Huang) at a massage parlour in a different kind (yes, this time, it is a shady cat-house), apart from his non-blinking mastery in portraying blindness. Meanwhile veteran actor Xiaodong Guo and Ting Mei's blindness is pretty inferior in contrast, the former merely squints all the time and the latter is undermined by her big, beautiful eyes, not a blessing for a blind girl. Lei Zhang, who is half-blind in the reality, refreshingly contributes a whiff of intimacy and simplicity in her acting debut, she is Xiao Kong, the fiancée of Wang (Guo), their marriage is not blessed by the girl's family, since stingingly hierarchy also exists in this disadvantaged group, complete-blind doesn't merit half-blind, this is the nitty-gritty philosophy in modern Chinese society, everything is meticulously measured by its utility and material value.
Adapted by a rather popular novel of Feiyu Bi, Lou's film version doesn't steer clear of the violence of its source, from the opening Xiao Ma's suicidal attempt with a gory neck gash to an appalling self-mutilated act to pay the debts, Lou continues his acclaimed streak of operating his sharp scalpel to dissect the scourges of humanity in our society, which is something of a curio in contemporary Chinese cinematic outputs. Then regarding of his subjects, Lou relents to build a mostly harmonious rapport among the blind, whereas the sighted is fully responsible for all the trivial strife among the close-knit clique, more less the end is much less blight than one might anticipate in his work.
To shoot a movie about blind people, is a quite self-contradictory premise, since film is a superlatively sight-contingent type of media, one wonders how many blind audience can actually get the whole picture of it, nevertheless, it doesn't stop Lou from deploying his gambit, introducing the film with an emotionless female voice-over as a guide for the blind, to articulate the opening credits and painstakingly verbalise the script as much as the film allows. Yet it does induce distraction for the sighted audience, the voice-over is so bland, as if it is directly grafted from a state-ordered documentary, it is a good gesture to show respect to the neglected group, but due to its default setting, it is not expedient at all, a legit "lip service".
Anyway, it is enlivening to see films like this as diversity and rationality is something desperately wanting in Chinese film soils. Unlike the blind unostentatiously but unpromisingly seek their own places in the mainstream society, BLIND MASSAGE does flaunt a bit to acquire its niche footing in the mainstream market, next time, maybe Ye Lou will be more equanimous, or not, for better or worse, sensationalising could be his brand as in SUMMER PALACE (2006, 9/10), Lou's controversial but inflammable love tangle happened under the backdrop of an unspeakable event in recent Chinese history.
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