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May 17, 2012

Zoom Hunting

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Lie Yan
Chi Li - 2010
Kam & Ronson Region 3 DVD

What do we mean when the name of Alfred Hitchcock is mentioned in describing a film by someone else, or when a film is described as Hitchcockian? Is Hitchcock's name invoked as lazy shorthand? Much of the time, I would say that is the case, especially by those whose knowledge of Hitchcock appears to begin and end with Psycho. What makes this especially frustrating for those who have seen more or most of Hitchcock's films is that Psycho is in several ways an atypical Hitchcock film. One could argue that a reputed potboiler like Topaz has more Hitchcockian elements with its story of spies and international intrigue.

Hitchcock's name has been invoked in relation to Taiwanese filmmaker Cho Li's Zoom Hunting. But much of that comparison hinges on the initial set up, which will remind some of Rear Window, of a photographer who accidentally photographs a pair of lovers in an apartment across the street, and winds up getting involved in ways unanticipated. There are also elements of Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow Up and Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation in this mix. More in terms of content than style would Cho's film with linked with the three older films. What Blow Up, The Conversation and Zoom Hunting share is that they use the basic premise of Rear Window as a starting point for their own distinctive explorations regarding how technology theoretically used for impartial documentation interacts with human fallibility.

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Rear Window and Blow Up are inquiries about understanding and interpreting images, while The Conversation is about spoken language - not only what is said, but how it is said, how inflection can change meaning. The two main characters are sisters, with complementary professions. Ruyi is the photographer, whose photos of an adulterous couple forces her to face some uncomfortable truths about herself. Ruxing is a writer of detective stories, whose writer's block seems to have ended by using Ruyi's photos as the basis of her new murder mystery.

The lovers across the street are married, but not to each other. Ruyi continues to photograph them, as well as the wife's family. When Ruxing questions Ruyi on her continued documentation, the inelegantly translated reply is that "peeping is the mother of creativity". Cho's bigger concerns would be the role of the artist as observer and creator. Cho also brings up what it means to be a female artist comparing giving birth to a child with giving birth, as it were, to a work of art. But going back to Hitchcock, the film is mostly about the act of observation and understanding what is seen.

A search for more information on Cho Li in English turns up very little. She earned an M.S. degree at Indiana State University in Radio/TV/Film, and previously worked as a producer before making her directorial debut with Zoom Hunting. What should give Zoom Hunting a certain degree of consideration is that it is the work of a female filmmaker touching on voyeurism and eroticism from the point of view of female characters. Is the film Hitchcockian? Maybe not in the way one would apply such a term to films by Brian De Palma, for example. A twist near the end is hardly a total surprise, but it does provide a satisfactory conclusion to a story where art and life follow each other.

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This post is on behalf of the the Third Annual For the Love of Film Blogathon. Hunt for your wallet or purse and make a donation to stream The White Shadow. More postings will be found at This Island Rod, part of the archipelago of participating film bloggers.

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Writer/Director Cho Li

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at May 17, 2012 08:03 AM


It sounds intriguing; the director obviously studied her film history! Thanks for bringing another previously unknown film to my attention..

Posted by: Tinky at May 17, 2012 12:27 PM

Thanks for coming by, Tinky. Films and food can be similar, trying something new and different.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at May 17, 2012 02:47 PM