ghostdinosaur’s review published on Letterboxd:
There's a scene in the first section of the movie that, I think, exemplifies why I find myself not liking this movie as much as I wanted or expected to.
Tao Zhao has agreed to marry Yi Zhang and has set a wedding date. She goes to visit Jing Dong Liang to invite him to her wedding. The film, to this point, has been an awkward romantic triangle between the three, with Liang and Zhang competing for her affections and Zhao trying to occupy a middle space in which she enjoys spending time with both of them and wants to hold onto this time as it is. There's an obvious allegorical side to this dynamic (Liang is a modesr working class laborer and Zhang is a brash capitalist), but as a piece of drama it fell flat to me. Liang is insulted that Zhao would think their friendship can continue, that she doesn't seem to understand the extent to which her decision has hurt him, that there could be nothing joyful for him in seeing her marry another man.
A lot is left unsaid in the film. This section is filled with pregnant pauses. With the audience required to infer what is unsaid. Generally speaking this is a fine approach to filmmaking. But here it leaves me in the dark in a fairly melodramatic scene that has been done before in many different films. What is Zhao's intention here? Does she realize that this is a hurtful thing to do, but has decided to do it anyway because of her strong desire to keep Liang in her life in some capacity? Or is she really so naive that she doesn't understand the reality of their dynamic, that Liang's feelings for her extend beyond friendship and that he can't easily stifle these feelings and dress up and pretend to be happy at her wedding when just a few nights previous he punched her now-fiancé in the face after a heated argument about her at a club?
I have rolled the scene over in my head many times since watching the film and I still don't have a clear answer. If it's the former, the film doesn't do much to address Zhao's insensitivity in trying to hold this combustible dynamic together. And if it's the latter then Zhao comes off naive to a degree I simply can't accept.
Again the political implications of what is happening play out further in the next two segments, so that the resolution to this scene from a thematic standpoint is satisfying. Zhangke has stark and intelligent things to say about the current trajectory of capitalism around the world. But on an interpersonal level it seems to me he could have made these same political points with more nuance and ingenuity. Nothing about this scene stood out to me as being better than just about every other "love triangle finally comes to a head" scene in movies or television.
(I should also note that the movie doesn't do enough to interrogate Liang's culpability either, as he comes off much more sympathetic than Zhang who is transparently obnoxious and egotistical. Here the sympathy for the working class becomes uncomfortably mingled with a sympathy for Liang's wounded masculinity and a more nuanced approach could navigate this dichotomy so that social sympathy and gender sympathy aren't conflated.)