Asian films gain speed using surprise, energy

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Hollywood hasn't produced much excellence so far in the new century, but international movies have been taking up some of the slack.

Asian cinema has enjoyed a particularly strong year, with Edward Yang's sensitive Taiwanese family drama "Yi Yi" and Ang Lee's coming Hong Kong martial-arts epic "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

This week brings new works from China and Japan, two of Asia's most cinematically productive countries. China's offering, Suzhou River, has already acquired an impressive list of honors on the film-festival circuit, including a slot in New York's prestigious New Directors/New Films series at the Museum of Modern Art and the prize of the Film Critics International Federation (FIPRESCI) jury at Vienna's recent Viennale festival, on which I served.

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For those who think Chinese movies diverge from Western fare by their very nature, "Suzhou River" may come as a surprise. The strongest influence on it is not traditional Chinese culture but the spirit of Alfred Hitchcock, whose 1958 masterpiece "Vertigo" appears to have inspired filmmaker Lou Ye's tale of a young man who finds himself in mysterious waters when he enters a kidnapping scheme, falls in love with the victim, loses her in a moment of violence, and becomes fixated on a young woman who may or not be not be his vanished lover.

Adding more layers to the story is the fact that it's narrated by a videomaker who may have lived these events, or may be spinning them from his imagination even as we watch them. "Suzhou River" is concerned as much with moods and mentalities as with actions and occurrences.

At once a poetic art film, a traditional suspense yarn, and a moody voyage through Shanghai's gritty back roads, it's a rich experience from any perspective.

Non-Stop, directed by the Japanese filmmaker Sabu, brings to mind a hit movie more recent than Hitchcock's classic: the German picture "Run Lola Run," which explored a series of hyperactive events through an unconventional storytelling structure.

A similar sense of kinetic energy surges through this tragicomic tale of three low-life men - a gangster, a bank robber, and a drug-abusing clerk - pursuing one another down Tokyo streets until their brains are so scrambled they can hardly remember who's chasing whom and for what.

"Non-Stop" doesn't have the supercharged brilliance that made "Run Lola Run" so memorable, but it's one of the season's quickest-moving films, and action fans should enjoy it. It premieres today in the Shooting Gallery Film Series, which brings offbeat fare to cities around the United States.

Both movies, not rated, include sex and violence.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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