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Original Title:
Hao qi hai si mao

China 2006

Thriller, Drama

Zhang Yibai

Carina Lau
Hu Jun
Song Jia
Liao Fan
Lin Yuan

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Curiosity kills the Cat

Story: Momo (Lin Yuan) is a photographer. By chance she finds out that Zheng Zhong (Hu Jun) cheats his wife Rose (Carina Lau). Momo secretly spies on Zheng, yet isn't sure if she should provide his wife with pictures of his unfaithfulness. This is because it seems that Zheng finally broke up with his mistress Lynn (Song Jia). He eventually chose his family and his three-years-old son over Lynn. However, it looks as if the money Zheng gave her as compensation isn't enough for her. She still wants to be close to her lover and can't let him go just like that. So she buys a hair studio with the money she got in the same building in which Zheng and his family live. Zheng fears that his wife might suspect something and so he once more talks with Lynn, trying to make clear that their relationship is over once and for all. Thereupon strange incidents happen. When even Zheng's son disappears the father loses it. He takes Lynn to task and then makes a big mistake.
Things get chaotic and everything turns out to be different from what it might have seemed at first. But how exactly fits parking garage guard Fendou (Liao Fan) into the picture and what does Momo really know about the incidents?

Review: "Curiosity kills the Cat" has been shortlisted to compete at the Oscars as China's addition for the "Best Foreign Film" category for a long time. Nevertheless, the movie didn't make it into the selection, eventually, and this not without a reason. Still, the movie proves to be an interesting and as it progresses even compelling thriller, that can hook us up after we got used to the odd flair, also providing us with some nice twists. Furthermore, actress Carina Lau is in top form once again and takes the mind game to a high level. Oftentimes the film looks uncommonly simple, yet the simple compositions of the pictures are also what can prove to be fascinating with time. Director Zhang Yibai tells his story without any visual extras, but pays more attention to the content instead. And this content is actually what makes this thriller pretty entertaining and intriguing.

The story revolving around the infidelity of Zheng and the resulting consequences that have wide repercussions, scraping the lives of all protagonists and pulling them down into a vortex of perdition, is brought to us from the rather objective perspective of photographer Momo at first. For the viewer this means, that he can't grasp everything happening on screen, of course, but actually most of it is not that hard to comprehend. What's unfortunate is that Momo carries this objectivity through the whole movie, making her character very shallow. Moreover, it's not easy to get access to the film this way. Only when the story is getting told from the view of Zheng and Lynn we finally, even if just slowly, can weave a bond to the protagonists.

The story-telling is nicely chosen and always provides us with questions and the necessary amount of thrill. Many of the scenes, however, make only little sense and at times even seem a bit too abstract and out of place. For instance, there is a scene in which Rose being covered by red color hammers against a glass door. Only retrospectively, scenes like that are resolved, because director Zhang Yibai tells his story from the perspective of all involved individuals, which makes the puzzle more complete with any minute that passes. At the latest, when the events are displayed from Rose's viewpoint, everything finally makes sense and we become aware that we interpreted a lot wrong along the way.
However, the story isn't that clever at first glance, especially concerning the beginning where we are lead to believe to have seen everything of it before already. We have the husband's unfaithfulness, the woman who doesn't want to end the affair and intimidates a yet intact family, and the husband who has to withstand more and more pressure, so that the audience has to ask itself when or if he is capable of murdering someone to solve his problems. That is the moment "Curiosity kills the Cat" becomes really enthralling, because the dialogues between Zheng and Lynn are pretty intriguing in their simplicity, as we never know how the characters will act eventually.

This mysticism that can be found in the characters adds to the thrill, yet they also remain a bit too shallow because of it. Only Carina Lau ("Forbidden City Cop", "Infernal Affairs 2") manages to give her character some profoundness later on, and this even though she was the one that was the hardest to understand at first. But the movie is also in strong need of her acting skills, as Hu Jun, who plays her husband, gives a way to trivial performance. This is the more fatal as the movie seems to center around his affair with Lynn. The rest of the cast does a decent job, yet one really would have wished for the characters to be a little bit more elaborated.
The film's strengths isn't to be found in its characters, but in the story, which is told in an appealing way. Oftentimes there is a strong use of jumping to different time levels, still one always can keep track of what's happening as we get to see already familiar scenes in a different light, without getting the feeling to just get a repetition of events.

In the end, everything comes differently as one might have expected. "Curiosity kills the Cat" is more clever and entangled than what one might have thought at first. There are numerous twists keeping you interested in the movie, which also makes the flick more entertaining than the quiet drama about the lives of different characters coming from dissimilar social classes, for which we initially mistake it. The closer the movie gets to its end, the more thrilling it gets, even the more as we can't fight the assumption that everything just has to end in a catastrophe.
Unfortunately, there really are some shortcomings concerning the performance of some of the actors. Moreover one really could have worked a bit more on the cinematography, even though it might already be better than what we are used to see from most other Chinese Mainland dramas. Furthermore, some of the cuts look a bit jumpy, but a decent score can make up for it.

After a slow prelude, that didn't promise much, "Curiosity kills the Cat" really could surprise me in a positive way. A good story, that is told in a nice and fitting way actually seems to be enough to create a certain amount of thrill and to take the audience on a small, yet fine mind-game ride. Director Zhang Yibai succeeds in this and maybe even could have done more with a more motivated cast.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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