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White Lies, Black Lies (2016) (DVD) (English Subtitled) (Taiwan Version)
Tiffany Hsu (Actor) | Annie Chen (Actor) | Wang Bo Chieh (Actor) | Lan Wei Hua (Actor)
White Lies, Black Lies (2016) (DVD) (English Subtitled) (Taiwan Version)
Taiwanese writer director Lou Yi-an offers up his third feature White Lies, Black Lies, following on from his 2009 award-winning feature debut A Place of One's Own and The Losers. The film was inspired by a 2010 article by writer Kuan Ren-chien on the famous 1967 Wanhua Chi-tsai Salon Murder, which Lou mines for a complex, ambiguous examination of the notions of truth and morality, which questions the role of the media in modern society. Following its release in Taiwan in 2016, the film won Best Narrative Feature at the Taipei Film Festival, before going on to play at a variety of international festivals.

The film begins in dramatic fashion, with the wife of salon owner Su Junjie (Wang Bo-chieh, Bodyguards and Assassins) being taken to hospital after her throat is cut, it not being clear whether this was attempted murder or a suicide attempt. Surprisingly, while she's in surgery Su flees the hospital and meets up with his high school sweetheart Xiaochen (Tiffany Hsu, The Tag-Along), who, despite being married and having a young daughter, heads off with him on the run. This obviously makes Su prime suspect number one, and with the police on his trail a media storm ensues. One journalist on the story called Jade (popular idol actress Annie Chen, Love Now) just happens to have a personal past connection with Su and Xiaochen, and she tracks them down, planning to get herself an exclusive. The publicity results in the case of the murder of Xiaochen's abusive father from years back being unearthed, with implications for her and Su.

The key theme in White Lies, Black Lies is playing around with the question as to which of the characters is telling the truth and why, the film revolving around different perspectives and stories. Lou Yi-an handles things very well in this respect, and the narrative is really quite skilfully constructed, keeping the viewer guessing through a series of twists, though thankfully without ever feeling too manipulative. Although the characters are a little on the obscure side, deliberately so, there's a psychological complexity to the script which makes it less predictable, as does Lou's non-judgemental approach to the possible crimes of the past and present – flashbacks inevitably play a significant role, often blurring and overlapping with events in the present day.

As the title suggests, much hinges on the difference between innocent and well-meaning white lies and the more sinister and destructive black lies, though to a large extent it's left to the viewer to decide which are which. At the same time though, the narrative does make sense, and the film is both dramatic and tense, Lou holding back from going fully art house. It's all quite ominous, and the film shows a profound distaste for the media throughout, and this gives it a welcome satirical edge, while holding back from making it the focus of the story. The film has a noirish look and feel through, Lou giving things a suitably moody air, and this fits well with the plot and themes, without being too over the top. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it's not the fastest moving of films, though Lou does add in some odd touches here and there, including some unsettling shots of the mannequins in the salon, and this helps keep things moving.

More importantly, Lou manages to get great performances from his cast, in particular his two lead actresses, and this ensures that the film is at least vaguely emotionally engaging, if not quite having the kind of impact it might have had. Annie Chen impresses the most, playing against her usual sweet image and stopping Jade from becoming simply a negative representation of the media – the role is a step up for the young actress, and deservedly won her a nomination for Best New Performer at the Golden Horse Film Festival. Though Su is the sketchiest of the three characters, Wang Bo-chieh makes him sympathetic, and Tiffany Hsu does a great job as the enigmatic Xiaochen, her story and past mysteries providing the film with perhaps its most gripping strand.

Though ultimately nothing new, White Lies, Black Lies is a very effective film, staying just the right side of art house opaqueness and keeping the viewer entertained as well as being occasionally baffled. Lou Yi-an is clearly a talented director and storyteller, and the film manages to balance social themes with a solid central mystery, without ever quite being too clever for its own good.

by James Mudge -

  • Region & Language: Hong Kong United States - English
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