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The Equation of Love and Death - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Li Mi de caixiang

China 2008

Drama, Thriller

Cao Baoping

Zhou Xun
Deng Chao
Zhang Hanyu
Wang Yanhui
Wang Baoqiang
Wang Ning

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The Equation of Love and Death

Story: Li Mi (Zhou Xun) is a cab driver and looking for her boyfriend for four years now. He sends her letters every now and then, yet doesn't give a single hint at where he is. Therefore, she shows every one of her taxi guests a picture of her boyfriend in the hopes of someone recognizing him. Two of her customers, Qiu Huogui (Wang Yanhui) and Qiu Shuitian (Wang Baoqiang), are actually tied to a man (Deng Chao) who resembles her boyfriend, but they don't know this at the moment. They are looking for a way to get some plane tickets after their contact has jumped from a bridge for some unknown reasons. Since they are broke they decide on the spot to kidnap Li Mi. In the end the woman manages to escape, though, and she goes to the police. Working on her case is Ye Qingcheng (Zhang Hanyu) and he soon finds out about connections the taxi driver isn't aware of. Maybe she will actually find her boyfriend in the end?

Review: The only thing preventing "The Equation of Love and Death" from being a memorable thriller/drama is it's lack of... memorable moments. In its core this thriller provides a minimalistic story that is appealing, but which eventually lacks the kind of weight that you would expect from this kind of movie. Director Cao Baoping doesn't create art house cinema with his movie but that's what his work should have been. Because accordingly, despite some captivating episodes, the film doesn't come along with a substantial story. Still, "The Equation of Love and Death" could have been a lot worse if it weren't for actress Zhou Xun who delivers a truely fantastic performance. The characters are written solidly, but she brings out more of her role than probably was demanded of her.

The Equation of Love and Death - Film Screenshot 11

The spectrum of emotions Zhou Xun ("Painted Skin: The Resurrection", "The Silent War") shows and the depth of them is truely amazing. Zhou has proven her value as a great actress for quite some time already, but here she probably delivers the best performance of her career. And this although she hasn't that much to work with. She is simply a woman who is waiting and looking for her boyfriend for four years already. Thus, Zhou works her way from one scene to another and together with her acting buddies creates tense moments that way. Surely director Cao deserves some praise for getting so much out of his actors and putting them into a favourable light. Because in fact Li Mi isn't the only important character in the movie.

The Equation of Love and Death - Film Screenshot 12

Actually, Cao tells three different stories, whereas it is pretty obvious from the getgo that they are in some way connected to one another. But that's where some disappointment comes into play later on, because the revelations are everything but spectacular and are presented in a lackluster way. It seems this was intentional, but whatever the aim was, it doesn't work out. The story simply doesn't offer enough. At first there is a fog of mystery hovering above everything. You are thrown into the movie right away and have to relate to the characters in some way, although we don't know yet what to think of them. As things progress the fog clears, but that doesn't make the individuals more sympathetic or just easier accessable, apart from Li Mi that is.

Deng Chao ("The Four") plays the most mysterious individual, while Zhang Hanyu ("Assembly") embodies a cop that makes it obvious once again that director and screenwriter Cao was eager to give every character a few pecularities and a background story that is touched upon. The same applies to Wang Baoqiang's ("Lost in Thailand") character. But that effort doesn't pay off since the characters and their stories are always dropped again later on. Even death in this thriller is dealt with in a very cold fashion. This also bestows something harsh and gritty upon the film, but all in all it is more confusing than anything else, because in its core, and there is no doubt about that, the story revolving around the female cab driver is a drama with a subtle love story added.

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It seems to be Cao's style to make things go into a chaotic direction without things going out of hand for him. A controlled frenzy so to speak. There is potential in that, but towards the end it turns out that Cao doesn't know yet, where to go with his ideas. At times "The Equation of Love and Death" is a convincing affair, but the film's title is as misleading as a lot of the situations in the movie. As a thriller or drama the story simply lacks that special something and truely emotional scenes that aren't solely carried by the fantastic Zhou Xun. As it is Cao's movie just turns out to be too shallow. There seems to be some sort of substance hidden within individual scenes, but the film as a whole lacks them. Next time Cao should try to get a message across, then his future as a filmmaker should look bright indeed.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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