VIFF 2017 Review: Dragonfly Eyes

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Dragonfly Eyes is a feature drama done through surveillance footage. This is one of the many surveillance images used in the film.

Dragonfly Eyes is a Chinese experimental film that attempts to use surveillance camera footage as a way to tell a story. It’s a unique story in its own.

The story begins in a Buddhist monastery. A young girl named Qing Ting, which means ‘dragonfly,’ has left the monastery in search of a better life. Ke Fan is a young man working a job at a cow farm. One day he catches the attention of Qing Ting. They have conversation, but it’s brief. She knows him and his farm work, but she tries to keep a public distance from him. She’s concerned for her social status about how she’ll look conversating with a ‘farm boy.’

Eventually she admits that she does love him and the two become a couple. However Qing Ting loses her job at a cleaner’s when a pushy rich woman gets more demanding and then demands Qing Ting be fired. Ke Fan swears to Qing Ting he will gets revenge for her. He does just that by driving in front of the rich couple’s car and smashing in their front at a red light. The incident lands Ke Fan a four-year prison term.

Four years have passed and Ke Fan is released from prison. The first thing he does is try to look for Qing Ting. He goes to where she used to live, goes to her former jobs. No sign. Then he learns of an internet celebrity by the name of Xiao Xiao. He sees her and notices that it’s Qing Ting. He tries to conversate with her, but she keeps on denying she’s Qing Ting. Then one day, she gives negative comments about a singing star. That leads to a lot of online flack delivered to her. Xiao Xiao is devastated and it drives her to suicide. Ke Fan learns of this. He feels what he must do is undergo plastic surgery to have Qing Ting’s face. After the operation, he returns to the monastery where she used to serve. It is there she chooses to stay.

This is definitely a film you can call experimental. You can also describe it as ambitious for Xu Bing. One thing we learn is that China is a country full of surveillance cameras. The average person’s face is seen on surveillance cameras 300 times a day. The cameras are all state-run. It is through this that Xu Bing came up with the idea to do a fictional story through use of surveillance. I tried to be as observant as I could with the film. I was trying to spot out if Xu Bing was using the same actors to play Ke Fan and Qing Ting. One thing about the film is that the parts are voiced over by Lui Yongfang for Qing Ting and Su Shangqing for Ke Fan.

I do give Xu Bing kudos for trying to make a film of this caliber and this experimental. However I have to say that it is flawed. The biggest thing is a story that appeared to make sense from time to time, but ended in a bizarre fashion. How does one try to keep the spirit of a deceased person alive by undergoing plastic surgery to look like them? The scene where Ke Fan joins the monastery made a little more sense as it can be seen as a way to keep Qing Ting’s spirit alive. However the plastic surgery really has me wondering.

I can understand that Xu Bing is trying to make more than one statement to make in this film. I think through the character of Qing Ting, he trying to make a statement of one being consumed by materialism. We have a young girl who leaves the monastery and then gets consumed in the modern world of materialism, and then she commits suicide. Also I feel with this film using surveillance camera footage, I think he’s also trying to make a statement about the chaos of this world we live in. It’s noted when the film goes from footage used as part of the drama shifting to general surveillance footage consisting of car crashes, people on the go, a disaster, a woman drowning in a pond, and even business footage. Whatever statements Xu is trying to make, it doesn’t come across smoothly and it comes across rather confusing. I will acknowledge Xu’s Dragonfly Eyes as a brave first-attempt at a ‘surveillance-drama’ and anticipate better in the years to come.

Dragonfly Eyes is an ambition attempt at creating a live-action film through surveillance footage, but it comes off as messy and confusing.

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