Crosscurrent (Berlin Review)
Poetry is in the art of subtle suggestion, the lyrical rhythm of words, and the invisible reveal of universal emotion. The more you talk about how poetic something is, the less poetic it becomes. Yang Chao’s Crosscurrent practices the opposite philosophy; literally writing out its poetry on the screen, drowning in a self-referential sea of airy profundities, and so deeply steeped in Chinese tradition that most of us unfamiliar are left one step behind with every turn.
Gao Chun (Qin Hao) travels up the Yangtze River, taking with him mysterious cargo for a shady businessman. His father recently passed, and tradition dictates that he must capture a black fish and let it die of natural causes onboard the ship in order for his father’s soul to be set free. But Gao Chun seems more interested in An Lu (Xin Zhilei), a mysterious woman he keeps seeing at every stop he makes. When he finds an anonymous book of poems on his ship, poems named after the ports along the Yangtze river, Gao Chun embarks on a (mostly inward) journey of discovery. On this so-called journey, he comes to terms with his feelings toward his father. He also remains determined to find out who this mythic woman really is and understand the spirit of the Yangtze river through the poems. Or something.
The end result kept me at bay with its molasses-like pace, overly pontificating screenplay, and awkwardly staged scenes (I’m thinking here mostly of those featuring the two central lovers). Thanks to majestic cinematography from master DP Ping Bing Lee (who is responsible for shooting the most beautiful film of last year, The Assassin) and a deeply emotive score by An Wei, it’s beautiful to look at and listen to. But I’d be surprised if the storytelling doesn’t leave many losing patience and scratching their heads.