Some of the films in this series at the Harvard Film Archive — Lou Ye’s Suzhou River (2000), Zhang Yimou’s Happy Times (2000), Wang Xiaoshui’s Beijing Bicycle (2001) — might be considered dazzling, but they aren’t new. (You can find our capsule reviews in "Film Strips.") Others might be considered new, but they aren’t necessarily dazzling.
Such as Dazzling (2001; in Mandarin with English subtitles; 84 minutes) itself. Li Xin’s film unleashes a portfolio-filling array of arty effects and techniques, from slow motion to CGI imagery, in order to illuminate this earnest meditation on the nature of cinema, illusion, and love. A movie-theater usher with an air of omniscience relates three love stories set in present-day Shanghai, each demonstrating how persistence and ingenuity in the face of the impossible can win the day. Meanwhile, he himself has been waiting in the park for the lost soul he’s in love with to show up while two angels on leave from Der Himmel über Berlin/Wings of Desire look on very seriously. Despite the evocative ending, Dazzling suffers from the mismatch of hip style and glib romanticism that’s troubled recent Chinese films.
A similar tale of romance set in Shanghai gets a more conventional, and affecting, treatment in Jiang Xiaozhen’s X-Roads (2001; in Mandarin with English subtitles; 104 minutes) — in fact, the director includes scenes from the 1937 Chinese classic romance Crossroads (starring her mother, Bai Yang) to emphasize her film’s connection with timeless cinema themes and traditions. After the death of her mother, Shao, a woman who’s achieved success but no emotional satisfaction after pursuing her decorating career in New York, returns to her native Shanghai to dispose of the house she’s inherited. She bumps into Ming, a local go-getter eager to help. Sparks fly, but there’s more to Ming than meets the eye. Jiang weaves the whimsical fate of her lovers with screwball dexterity, though the bland leads (Alan Thicke in the Ralph Bellamy role of the ill-fated fiancé outshines them both) make this less than a dazzler.