Alfred Hitchcock’s ”Vertigo” remains the most hypnotic movie ever made about romantic loss, urban car travel, and the not unprofound question, When a woman goes blond, is she changing her look – or her identity? Caught, tangled, saturated in obsession, ”Vertigo” is itself an easy movie to get obsessed with, especially if you’re a filmmaker.
Brian De Palma’s entire gliding camera style can be traced to that single circling shot of James Stewart kissing Kim Novak in the stable, and it’s clear that Lou Ye, who wrote and directed the Shanghai set film noir Suzhou River, is as far gone a ”Vertigo” junkie as De Palma.
Ye’s movie is about a bike courier with shady connections who falls in love with a bratty pigtailed teenager, watches her commit suicide by jumping off a bridge, and then meets her again – or does he? She’s now a jaded slattern performing as a blond mermaid in a bar’s giant fish tank. Featured in this enigmatic dual role is a terrific young actress, Zhou Xun, who is lascivious one moment, haunted the next; she keeps the audience, as well as the hero, off balance.
Ye loves the camera as much as De Palma does, only he goes in the opposite direction, employing a skittery, darting handheld style that literally makes us feel as if we’re the missing character in a scene. ”Suzhou River” has more atmosphere than it does coherence; it’s a series of floating tricks and gambits in search of a resolution. Even so, Ye’s ”Vertigo” fever is contagious.