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Review: Looper

2012-11-09 10:52:50 Quarterly

A still from "Looper." [Photo: douban]


The China-US co-production film Looper is creating a commotion among international viewers, but the movie is a Hollywood triumph rarely shared by Chinese co-producers and investors. Let's listen to our movie reviewer Laiming and find out why.



Director Rian Johnson's first science fiction movie, "Looper", received a mixed critical response in China and North America. Outside China, the movie was given almost "universal acclaim", topping International Movie Database. The gloss put on for Chinese viewers seems rewarding, but Chinese critics are a little less than satisfied. Personally, I have some major concerns that need to be addressed.

"Looper" deals with time travel, a recurrent theme in science fiction movies that Rian Johnson has long dreamed about doing. But anyone who takes on that task runs the risk of provoking the famously hard-to-please sci-fi lovers. Pulling off time travel logic can be difficult on screen. "Looper" ignores most popular theories on the topic and establishes a world of its own, and that sparked disagreement among many sci-fi fundamentalists. I have no issues in this respect. I believe a successful science fiction movie must transcend its imaginary attire and portray human emotions that are shared by all.

The movie succeeds in this endeavor with only one of the major characters. Joseph Gordon-Levitt's role receives elaborate explanation. As a viewer, I have no problem thinking what he thinks and feeling what he feels. But the older version of his character is not so fortunate. Bruce Willis was never really equipped with the dramatic arsenal of tender emotions, thus is the case in "Looper". His romance with a Chinese lover was so weakly portrayed as to undermine the relationship. When he tries desperately to avenge her death, viewers can't help but doubt his sincerity.

The weak romance has a more immediate consequence, with Chinese actress Xu Qing in the role. I understand the North American version is different from the one played in Chinese cinemas. The Chinese version contains a wee bit more China-related scenes, and Xu Qing was allowed a few lines. But overall, the presence of the Chinese star is no more than symbolic, a weak reminder of Willis's motives.

The Chinese critics are especially unhappy about the Chinese elements. First of all, the image of Xu Qing does not depart from Western concepts, so she hardly represents regular Chinese women. Furthermore, the attempt to picture China as the future center of the world and have the actor repeat it over and over simply sounds odd.

Modesty has nothing to do with it. A considerable amount of Chinese investment has been committed to making the world understand China, but that reality is not delivered in "Looper". The China-US co-production brings fortunes back to Hollywood, but China does not get what it signed on for.

The sci-fi film may be a triumph in the western perspective, but the Chinese are not so easy to please. I look forward to the day a real Chinese movie will win "universal acclaim."

On a scale from one to ten, I give "Looper" a five.

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