Chen's trite, uninspired approach to a dated concept is tiresome and deflating.
Caught in the Web
When Lanqiu (Gao Yuanyuan), a young Chinese executive with a promising future learns during a routine physical that she’s fatally ill, she becomes dreadfully upset and, in a lapse of judgement, refuses to offer her seat to an old man on the bus. Another passenger captures the moment on their cellphone, turning her worst moment into a viral sensation that defames not only her name, but her cold, overbearing boss, Shen (Wang Xueqi), as well.
Kaige Chen’s Caught in the Web, China’s Oscar entry for the best foreign-language film, seems to have landed on our shores eight years late, as it poses played-out observations about the invasiveness and of the Internet age. It’s a concept so familiar to so many that it’s hard to shake the feeling that we’ve walked down this road many, many times before. Not helping the film’s plight is that it’s dipped in a thick coating of sappy melodrama that underwhelms in a different way.
With Lanqiu’s bus incident making the internet rounds, she tragically becomes the poster child for the rude, insensitive youths the older generation Chinese (a culture steeped in tradition and discipline) deem poisoning to society. Meanwhile, Shen, now inundated with heaps of unwanted media attention, finds himself simultaneously entrenched in a marital dispute with his wife, who suspects him of cheating and sees the turbulent state of affairs as an opportunity to publicly shame him. The repercussions of Lanqui’s actions compound quickly and grow gigantic as the story unfolds, but we get Chen’s point within the first ten minutes of the film. We also follow several members of the media covering the “bus scandal”, and their stories are the dullest.
The plot is as unsightly and unapproachable as a messy ball of electric cables you need to untangle before you can…well…watch a movie. There are far too many characters to keep up with, and hopping spastically between their story lines will make your brain spin until it’s exhausted, throbbing, and just wants to quit.
The broad drama the characters wrestle with (“wrestle with” is too strong a phrase–“fidget with like a blanket during a midday nap” is more apt) is plain and predictable, and they incessantly vocalize what’s going on in their heads as if we’re too dumb to figure it out for ourselves. It’s borderline insulting.
There’s a bit of entertainment to be found in watching Wang’s abusive treatment of his underlings, and the acting across the board isn’t atrocious–just disappointing. Similarly, Chen’s compositions feel flat and sterile, filming the modernist Chinese interiors like it’s a TV commercial for a new iPad, the backgrounds dulled to showcase the beauty of the product–except there’s no beautiful product to showcase. Just dulled backgrounds. The actors should be the showcase (Gao is very pretty), but Chen doesn’t seem interested in framing them in any sort of interesting way. Oddly, there’s a store-brand version of the 5,6,7,8’s “Woo Hoo” from Kill Bill that resurfaces several times in the film and makes the story feel even more generic.
While the clash of the older generation’s precious ideals with the brash intrusiveness of modern “luxuries” like smartphones and social media is an intriguing juxtaposition, Chen’s trite, uninspired approach to the concept is deflating, and ensures Caught in the Web will vanish into the mediocre-movie abyss.