Runtime: 123 Minutes
Director: Cedric Jouarie
Writer: Cedric Jouarie
Stars: Heng-Yin Chou, Damon Da, Teng-Fei Gao
Review By Mique Watson
Sexual assault is a crime that has been perpetrated upon far too many women; some who’ve unfortunately gone through this may find this film to be one too difficult to sit through. An experience like this is not one which needs re-living–especially when it hits this close to home (which happens to be the case of the director/screenwriter/producer, Cédric Jouaire according to my press notes).
A best-selling writer is seduced, then kidnapped by a stalker who accuses him of rape. She claims that the rape occurred 20 years ago and that he has used her personal tragedy and exploited it by making it the plot of his latest novel. The author insists that this is merely a coincidence and that his work is merely one of fiction, yet the vengeful woman persistently forces him to confess. This is not necessarily a fun film, or an easy one, rather; this is perhaps the #TimesUp, #MeToo movie-going experience we need right now. This is a film which probes the causes of sexual assault and how our culture and media have some culpability for why humans are responsible for doing awful, unforgivable things to one another.
“It is the women–according to these retrograde ideas–who are to be blamed for their beauty and lust. These ideas are regressive in how they invalidate women’s sexualities.”
The author in question here is Raymond Ho (Lawrence Ong), his wife, Viola (Heng-Yin Chou)–also a writer–contributes to a magazine. She is a university professor who is mistaken, by a fan at an event, to be a high school teacher. The film introduces us to her as another character unknowingly giving a scathing criticism of her to her own face; she is referred to as “too smart”, among other things; things which men label women in order to gaslight them out of–what I suspect–intimidation. What’s quite disturbing here, is that it is another woman who is critiquing Viola; thus, going to show that women–who, I suspect, have been gaslit their whole lives by men–are capable of being toxic and misogynistic too.
Several scenes in the film are depictions of events which transpire in Raymond’s book, “A Very Cold Summer”. In these scenes, we see a young woman, Millie (Xuan Zhang), who had just been raped. She returns home to her mother only to be subjected to more abuse. Her mother cuts her hair off (in addition to other, unspeakable things to worsen her daughter’s physical appearance), and rationalizes this act with the “logic” that it is her daughter’s fault that she was raped because she is “too pretty”. The mother also refers to her daughter’s beauty as a *checks notes* “punishment from God”. This punishment, in her mind, is the reason why her once “pure” daughter has been “soiled”.
The mother then reveals that, when she was her daughter’s age, this too had happened to her; she was disowned. This scene conveys that women are raised to believe the backwards notion that their bodies do not belong to them. They’re raised to know that it is they who are to be blamed when their bodies are violated without their consent–not the men who did the violating.
It is the women–according to these retrograde ideas–who are to be blamed for their beauty and lust. These ideas are regressive in how they invalidate women’s sexualities. They render women as capable of dehumanizing other women as a result of how culture bleeds into one’s upbringing; because they ultimately suggest that women’s natural urges and desires need “fixing”.
Viola calls Raymond a called a grave robber because his writing success, as she points outcomes from stories of other people–her own story included, along with his friend’s who have committed suicide. Stories that, as she says, are not his to tell; stories that he sensationalizes and sells as fiction. “Is anything sacred to you?” Viola laments as she, in a state of inner anguish, recounts how he used her story (something so personal, so integral to her being) without her consent; thus, violating her inner world and putting it on full display for his audiences to see.
One of his books, as he points out, ends in rape. Raymond’s publisher, Marian (Yiling Tsai) knows this sordid detail yet attempts to expand his brand by re-designing his book’s cover in an attempt to sell the story to younger girls. She says that despite the contents of the book all being retained, the cover will be designed to be “less creepy”; thus, undermining and trivializing the heavy subject matter. Marian rationalizes this business decision by telling Raymond that women secretly like it (sexual harassment/assault); that saying “no” is equivalent to saying “convince me better”. This is true to today’s media in its sexualization of women, fetishization of rape, and the like; it’s wonderful to see this film calling insanity like this out.
The first part of the film is in black and white and –intercut with those B&W scenes are ones in colour which depict the contents of “A Very Cold Summer”.. As the film goes on, the B&W gradually starts to incorporate some coloured hues, until all the footage–even the ones that do not depict the contents of the book–are in standard colour. This is done to convey that life does indeed imitate art and that fiction has slowly started to manifest itself into the story’s reality.
“This act of vengeance is one which gives men a taste of their own medicine, and this is perhaps the kind of story we need right now. It serves as a reminder for how.”
The film then retains the standard colour when a subplot involving a stalker named Melanie (Wei Li-Yin) begins around the halfway mark. Melanie pretends to be a sweet and innocent fan–one who had happened upon the author by chance–and then later reveals herself for who she truly is. Raymond is more than willing to entertain Melanie behind his wife’s back and ultimately gives in to Melanie’s advances.
Thankfully, this scene of seduction is shown with tasteful restraint. This is a scene involving a woman seducing a man which is depicted in such a way doesn’t judge her for acting on her sexuality; this undercuts the way most films seek to be coy about women’s sexualities. The rest of the film revolves around an act of revenge which will not be fully described here, so as to let the audiences savour one of the film’s biggest surprises.
The scene portrays the trauma a woman goes through when she is subjected to the cruel acts of another man; men who take things women have without their consent are that which the film’s ire is evidently geared toward. This act of vengeance is one which gives men a taste of their own medicine, and this is perhaps the kind of story we need right now. It serves as a reminder of how women ought to be listened to.