Crosscurrent review

Crosscurrent poster

Crosscurrent movie poster

As I was watching Crosscurrent, slowly but surely getting sucked into its hypnotic, languid universe, one of the first things that crossed my mind was that Yang Chao’s film wouldn’t be fully alive if it wasn’t so deliberately slow and long (almost 2 hours), this storytelling and visual style symbolizing the  story – a journey on the Yangtze river. (As I result, I wasn’t surprised to later read in the production notes that the filmmaker had rejected an early, faster-paced 90mn cut of this film.)

In the tradition of masterworks such as Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Crosscurrent uses a boat trip as a metaphor for a man’s inner journey and much more. Following Gao Shun (Qin Hao) as he takes his cargo boat from Shanghai to Yibin, the film focuses on Gao’s love story with An Lu (Xin Zhilei), a woman having various incarnations (artist, prostitute, etc.) in different ports.

Meaning “safe land” in Mandarin, An Lu is the core and most enigmatic element of this film. Blurring the lines between dream and reality, Mr. Chao’s script requires us to fully accept his floating, surreal narrative and we are never sure if An is a magical character, exists just on paper – Gao reads a book of poetry – or in his memory.

Besides this enigmatic romance, Crosscurrent is more importantly a meditation about a changing world. We visit a succession of towns which life depends on river activities, from fishing to ships being used to transport goods and people. We are however told that because of modernization, cargo activity has dropped drastically on the Yangtze, the film delivering a melancholic portrait of a lifestyle and areas that are slowly dying  – this gives you another clue about An Lu’s multiple identities as metaphors for China.  Mr. Chao also attempts to tackle history and religion but this is probably where he goes overboard, giving us the feeling that too many ambitious themes are stuffed in a single work.

While Mr. Chao’s talents as a director and screenwriter are obvious, Crosscurrent wouldn’t probably be as striking without Mark Lee Ping-Bing’s gorgeous cinematography which emphasizes the river’s beauty while creating a ghostly atmosphere – the fact that he’s also responsible for In the Mood for Love’s visuals should give you an idea of what to expect!

With its languorous pace and ethereal photography, Crosscurrent is a beautiful, ambitious but somewhat confusing work that succeeds at making you experience its universe, as long as you accept its open-ended rules.

Director: Yang Chao – Actors: Qin Hao, Xin Zhile – Running Time: 1:56 – Year: 2016 – Country: China
Click here to watch the Crosscurrent trailer
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Fred Thom

Fred Thom

Editor-in-Chief/Founder/Film Critic at Plume Noire
The founder and editor-in-chief of Plume Noire, Fred Thom covers film festivals and writes movie reviews. He was born in Marseilles, France and is now living in Los Angeles, California.