Kaige Chen

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7.1 Huang Tudi/ Yellow Earth (1984)
6.5 Da Yuebing/ The Big Parade (1986)
7.1 Hai zi Wang/ King of Children (1987)
7.1 Ji-ng Ke-ci Qin Wang/ The Emperor and the Assassin (1989)
7.4 Bian Zou Bian Chang/ Life on a String (1991)
7.5 Ba Wang Bie Ji/ Farewell My Concubine (1993)
6.0 Feng Yue/ Temptress Moon (1996)
6.4 Caught in the Web (2012)

Kaige Chen (China, 1952), the son of the filmmaker Huai'ai Chen, joined Mao's Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution and denounced his own father.

His first three films launched him as a leader of the "fifth generation". Huang Tudi/ Yellow Earth (1984) is worthy mainly because of Zhang Yimou's cinematography, that threatens to turn the landscape into the real protagonist. Otherwise, it is basically a half-baked musical, as everybody sings all the time, mixed with a half-baked ethno-documentarian, mixed with a piece of socialist-realism propaganda.

During the civil war between the communists and the nationalists, just when they allied to fight against the Japanese, a middle-aged soldier is sent by the communists to gather traditional songs in a remote rural province. Gu arrives at a village just when the procession of a wedding has delivered the veiled bride to the bridegroom. The village joins together in celebrating the wedding and many songs are sung. Gu has paper and pen always ready to write down all the songs that he hears. Meanwhile, we notice that the bride was barely a teenager: brides are bought at a young age in that part of the world. Gu takes part in the life of the village, which is still a tough traditional peasant life. For example, women have to walk to the river to get water. Gu explains that life in the south (controlled by the communists) is much better and that women are not bought and sold like in the north. He tries to befriend the 14-year old daughter, Qiao, of his host. He tells her that in the south the women work in the fields and fight the Japanese, just like men, while the men are capable of sewing just like women. While working in the fields with the family, that also includes a taciturn child, the soldier explains that the aim of collecting songs is to make the other soldiers aware of the struggle of the peasants so that the soldier will fight with even more ardor. The father, a widower, has already promised his daughter to a much older man, but now she dreams of joining the free girls of the south. Her father explains that she was already engaged as a child, and that the dowry has already been spent for the funeral of her mother and for the engagement of her brother. Qiao has no choice. The day comes when Gu has to return to his regiment, having accomplished his mission. First the child follows him without saying a word. Gu sends him back. Then Qiao shows up: she wants to follow him and is available to do anything for the army. He promises to come back and rescue her. But shortly afterwards she gets married (the same traditional procession and ritual we saw at the very beginning). After the wedding Qiao gives her brother instructions on how to keep the house going and then runs away, hoping to join the soldiers on the other side of the Yellow River. With her brother begging her not to cross the river, she rows an old boat into the water but soon the boat sinks and she drowns. Some time later Gu is on his way back, again on foot. He enters the old shack but finds nobody. The village seem to have been abandoned. A drought has been causing terrible devastation. The villagers are all out in the fields staging a propitiatory dance. Qiao's brother sees Gu walking towards them and runs out of the hysterical crowd asking Gu for help. Someone intones a communist anthem, the first non-traditional song of the film.

Da Yuebing/ The Big Parade (1986) was a propaganda film, again photographed by Zhang Yimou.

the autobiographical Hai zi Wang/ King of Children (1987), adapted from a novel by Ah Cheng, was a massive commercial failure but actually a better film, with both farcical and an allegorical subplots. The film is ostensibly about life during the Cultural Revolution, but in reality it is an ode to primitive life in primitive nature by primitive people who speak a primitive language.

During the Cultural Revolution poor, simple and happy people live in a simple building in the countryside. One of them, Lao Gan, has been selected to become a teacher. He is the first one to be surprised because his education is very limited. His friends, led by the plump, clownish and loud chef Laidi, tease him but wish him the best. He and a friend set out on foot through the jungle. They reach the remote school and again Lao Gan explains that he hardly went to school himself. He is introduced to the children and realizes that they don't even have books. Someone has drawn aparody of his face on the blackboard behind him. He finds a little bit of paper for them so they can copy his writing on the blackboard. When it gets dark, the only light is from tiny candles, one per student. The text that he writes and they have to copy are official propaganda. One of the brightest children, Wang Fu, maintains a hostile attitude. Lao Gan reacts by realizing that this form of teaching is useless for the children. He then encourages his pupils to write something original instead of copying the official writings. When Lao Gan returns to visit his friends at the barracks, the chef finds him the vocabulary that he needs but demands that he help her become a teacher of music because she knows how to sing and play. Now that there is a vocabulary, Wang Fu doubles his efforts to study as much as possible. When it is the children's turn to help the workers, Lao Gan makes a bet that he will gift the dictionary to Wang Fu if Wang Fu can finish a task of bamboo cutting that is virtually impossible. Wang Fu's father is dumb but he spends the night helping his son to cut the bamboo so that his son can win the bet. We hear a thousands voices pronouncing all the words of the vocabulary as Wang Fu reads them late into the night. The pupils love school, as they get to write about real things, including the people they know. But one day a communist agent shows up to investigate on Lao Gan's methods: he abandoned the Maoist textbooks. After the meeting Lao Gan returned to his classroom and asks Wang Fu to read the moving essay that he has written about his father. Lao Gan is fired from his teaching job. He sets out on foot to return to his barracks but he stops briefly in a ghostly landscape of inverted stumps. The workers have set the forest on fire.

Ji-ng Ke-ci Qin Wang/ The Emperor and the Assassin (1989) is a sprawling, lavishly choreographed, historical drama with many subplots, the most expensive Asian production until then. If it fails as a Shakespearean tragedy, it certainly succeeds as a visual feast.

The story is set two thousand years earlier, when the king of Qin, Ying, is reminded by his priest of his divine mission: to unite the seven kingdoms of China under his own rule. A massive army of horse riders sets on the path of war through the plains of China. In the meantime prime minister Lu is summoned by the Queen Mother. She is living a decadent life in the company of a young servile "Marquis" who was hired by the prime minister seven years earlier. The Queen Mother announces that the Marquis has found a suitable wife for the king: the princess of Han, who also happens to be the niece of the Marquis. The prime minister objects that the king is about to annex Han. The Queen Mother is distressed by the thought that sooner or later the king will destroy her homeland too, and she will lose the tribute that her subjects pay her. The Marquis behaves like an idiot but he is the Shakespearean fool who actually talks sense into people while smiling: he insinuates to the prime minister that the king will not need him (the prime minister) anymore once he has completed his conquests. The king is just then conquering the kingdom of Han. The king removes prime minister Lu when Lu advises him against completing the conquest of the capital. Upon hearing that he is to marry the niece of the Marquis, he humiliates the Marquis in front of everybody. Lady Zhao arrives, the beautiful young concubine of the king. The mother herself feels that it is unfair to Lady Zhao that the king will marry another woman: the king and Lady Zhao gre up together and is a clever woman. She has come to tell the king that she wants to leave. The king who si not afraid of any enemy is terrified at the idea that his childhood friend and lover may leave him. She reminds him of many tender moments of their childhood. Now that he is a powerful king she doesn't feel the same anymore. She asks him to go back to his Queen Mother's town so that they can be happy together again, but the king has his divine mission to accomplish. He dreams of his unified empire in front of a colossal map woven by two artists of Han. After Han falls to the mighty war machine of the king, Lady Zhao suggests that he takes the next kingdom, Yan, through intrigue instead of force. She has her face branded by the royal prison guards with the king's slave mark, and seem to enjoy the idea of having become ugly. This allows her to travel to Yan and organize a fake assassination plot against him. She seems ready to sacrifice anything to make his dream come true. The king will then use the assassination plot as an excuse to attack Yan. The king and the concubine part ways after a last meeting in the royal swimming pool where the king has built a bridge as an eternal tribute to their love. A female dwarf has already delivered to the prince of Yan the summon to surrender.
In the meantime a professional swordsman, Jing, massacres an entire family except the blind daughter: she commits suicide. Devastated by by guilt, he abandons his murderous career and becomes a tramp in the land of Yan. When he decides to help a boy prisoner who has been hanged by the feet, he is even willing to be humiliated in public rather than use violence. Provoked, he accidentally kills the arrogant man who hung the boy and then releases the boy. Lady Zhao has witnessed the noble act and is fascinated by the beggar. Jing is arrested and condemned to death by the prince of Yan. The death sentence is to be carried out by smashing his head against a stone wall. As the guards rocked him on a device that swings him closer and closer to the wall, Jing refuses to scream. Lady Zhao arrives in time to rescue him. Both Lady Zhao and the prince of Yan beg him to accept the job to assassinate the king, but he refuses. Tortured, he doesn't scream at all. Lady Zhao is falling in love with him.
Back at the palace the Marquis reveals to be a conspirator, and not a fool at all. The Queen Mother had two children from him, who are kept in hiding from the king. Men hired by the Marquis try to assassinate him. His trusted general Fan protects him. The Marquis fakes a message from the Queen Mother to former prime minister Lu, asking for his help in the coup, but Lu senses that it is a plot to install the Marquis (who used to be his servant) and then his son as king. The Marquis' men attack the palace, but are exterminated (butchered and hatched to pieces even after they surrender). The king also seizes the Marquis' two sons and has them brutally murdered in front of their mother, the Queen Mother (they were therefore his half-brothers). Before being executed, the Marquis takes his revenge by revealing that the king is not a descendant of the previous king but the offspring of an affair between the Queen Mother and former prime minister Lu. The king is illegitimate. The king does not hesitate to sentence Lu (his father) to death. Lu invites the king to kill him because it's the only way that he (the king) can prove to the world that Lu was not his father. Lu never told the truth because he wanted his boy to become king, and he now wants to be killed to keep it that way. The king has him hanged, and then cries against his father's dead body. When he stops crying, he orders Lu's entire family to be killed. The king is going crazy.
In the meantime, Lady Zhao and Jing have falled in love: he is ready to fight a duel for her, although again he refrains to kill the defeated enemy. When general Fan runs away from the rapidly maddening king and takes shelter at the Yan court, the king unleashes his army against the homeland of Zhao, slaughtering even the children. Lady Zhao begs Jing to help her, but he refuses to follow her as she heads for Zhao. She reaches her homeland only to find scoreless of dead bodies. She confronts the mad emperor and accuses him of betraying his divine mission to pacify the country. She begs him to save the capital that is still resisting, but he has a personal score to settle: that is the city where he was kept as a slave when he was a child. Lady Zhao enters the capital while the war machine of the emperor is laying siege and preparing for the decisive assault. She finds bodies of children who have been buried alive in the sand and swears eternal hatred to her old lover. She returns to Jing and this time he accepts to fight the mad emperor, who in the meantime has become even more unstable after his mother died. Jing drinks with general Fan, who confides that he knows the secret that could destroy the emperor, but then commits suicide rather than divulge it.
Jing arrives at the emperor's court disguised as an envoy from Yan carrying a box with the head of the renegade general (as a sign of friendship) and a box with the map of Yan (as a pledge of submission). He behaves like a coward. He confesses that he has been sent to kill him and begs for mercy, but then suddenly draws the knife and tries to kill the emperor. The emperor is faster and runs away, chased by the assassin, while the crowd observes without offering any help. Eventually the assassin fails miserably and is killed by emperor. The emperor has won but cries when his rival dies. Lady Zhao comes to take Jing's body and the emperor in vain asks her to stay. She leaves him alone, but he smiles thinking that he has realized the dream of uniting China.
Bian Zou Bian Chang/ Life on a String (1991) is a mystical fairy tale that for the most part is simply a visual poem, blending ageless nature and millenary traditions into a flow of sumptuous images. The protagonist is a wandering Buddhist saint who is asked to perform miracles but in reality is just waiting for a miracle to happen to him, and eventually finds out that his beliefs are mere superstition but nonetheless his pupil will take over. There is a world that needs saints to keep peace and needs to believe in miracles; and there is a world that only sees a blank page in an ancient magical formula. There are allegorical impassable waterfalls that separate the world of the bustling towns from the enchanted world of primitive life. A child is attending an old sick man behind a blue curtain. The old man whispers that a secret formula is hidden inside the banjo. When the 1000 string breaks, the child will be allowed to open the banjo and read the prescription that will heal his blindness.
Sixty years later that child has become an an old man who plays the banjo and travels with his own pupil, a blind boy named Shidou. One day the old saint is desperately looking for Shidou in the busy noisy alleys of a town. They have been called to visit a remote village in the mountains. They have to cross a desert to reach a completely different world. The crux is to cross some majestic waterfalls, a feat that the local people deem impossible. The old saint and Shidou have a last meal at the tavern run by a smiling chef and his gorgeous daughter with help from a merry idiot. The old man is determined to cross the waterfalls no matter what because the people of the village on the other side are waiting for him. he succeeds and is welcome by a group of lively children who wash him with the sand of the dunes. A pretty girl, Lanxiu, welcomes Shidou. The whole village comes out to escort the two blind men into town with the honors reserved to heroes and saints. They perform a concert at night surrounded by an ocean of torches.
The saint and Shidou stay at the Buddhist temple. Shidou shocks the boys of the village with his almost supernatural powers: he can even find Lanxiu without seeing her. The master tries to explain to Shidou that the banjo is better than a woman, but the boy and Lanxiu keep meeting secretely to run, play, pray and... kiss. The master is getting sick. He has already broken 998 strings playing the banjo and has two more to go before he can open it and read the formula that will allow him to see the world.
When a rival clan attacks the villagers, Lanxiu, afraid that her father will get killed, runs to get help from the saint. Shidou forbids her to disturb the sick old man who needs rest, but the saint comes out and walks to the valley where the battle is raging: he simply walks among the fighters and the fighting breaks up, all the men following him and singing with him. Back at the temple, he falls very sick, shaken by violent fever. Lanxiu holds his hand, but this only brings back bitter memories of the beautiful woman who betrayed him.
When the saint finds Shidou sleeping next to Lanxiu on top of a haystack, he gets mad at Shidou. The boy, incredulous, accuses his master of just being jealous and for the first time the master hits him. The master then begs Shidou to forgive him (thereby admitting that it was indeed jealousy). Finally, the 1000th string breaks and the saint has to go to town to have the formula read and turned into a medicine. Lanxiu asks him to bring back a kite and writes a letter. As the man walks out towards the waterfalls, Shidou tells Lanxiu that the string was broken by the sun, not by the saint's playing. Shidou knows that it makes no difference: it's only superstition.
Lanxiu's father has seen her daughter flirting with Shidou and decides to take action so that things don't get out of control: one night the clan attacks the temple where Shidou is now sleeping alone and beat him badly. The following day she takes Shidou to a remote place, apparently to play hide and seek as usual, but this time it's a dangerous cliff and it collapses killing the girl (whether she did it on purpose or not we can't tell).
Meanwhile, the master has arrived in town. Followed by the usual crowd of ecstatic followers, the old blind man walks solemnly into a pharmacy and finally opens the banjo, producing the secret formula of the ancestors to the pharmacist. The pharmacist wears his glasses to read the prescription but... it's a blank page. The blind man walks out crying and screaming. He destroys his master's grave and then walks back to the other side of the waterfalls. In the tavern he gets drunk. The owner tells him that life is just a game, the tavern's owner being a saint himself apparently. The old man crosses the waterfalls again accompanied by the laughter of the tavern's idiot servant.
The old blind man leaves and returns to Shidou in the temple, bringing a kite as Lanxiu had asked him. The old man dies and is buried by the village. Shidou packs the kite and Lanxiu's last letter and sets out to begin his itinerant job. The clan pays him the honors due to the new saint and he begins his nomadic life of saint while flying the kite high in the sky.

Ba Wang Bie Ji/ Farewell My Concubine (1993) is a historical film that tells the story of four generations of Chinese people via the lives of two opera singers. At first they are children and grow up in a society whose values are honor, skill and tradition. Then they are successful young men in a war-torn society in which the main value is loyalty to the nation. Then they are failed adults in an irrational society in which the main value is obedience to grotesque dogmas. And finally they are old men in a society that doesn't need them anymore. Douzi, in particular, is one of the great "masks" of cinema, trained so well to play the role of a woman that he ends up living like a woman, falling in love with his stage brother, prostituting himself to a powerful man, hating the prostitute who marries his stage brother, plunging into the depths of drug addiction, being betrayed by everybody he loved, and committing suicide when it becomes obvious that they won't even be able to play their favorite opera anymore.

In 1977 two actors dressed in traditional costumes enter an empty theater to rehearse. The only man inside, who mans the lighting, recognizes them as two old stars. They have not performed together for 22 years because of Mao's "Cultural Revolution", which has now ended after his death and the arrest of the "Gang of Four".
A black and while flashback restarts the story frm 1924. A group of boy clowns is performing in the street. The crowd is not pleased when one of the boys run away. One of them, Shitou, tries to appease the spectators by breaking a brick on his head. This satisfies the audience but afterwards he still gets whipped for her stunt. A woman and a child have been watching the scene among the crowd and then follow the troupe inside. She is a prostitute and has brought her child to the manager of the company hoping that he can be hired: the child is getting too old to stay at the brothel. The manager, however, doesn't like the child because he was born with six fingers and sends them away. The mother, desperate, takes an axe and cuts the sixth finger off the hand of the child. It is snowing outside when Douzi is delivered to the troupe. The other children, who live all together in the same large room, stuffed naked one on top of the other like sardines, make fun of him. Furthermore, the training to become an opera boy is brutal and merciless: the children are literally tortured to be able to perform the movements required by the opera, and they are treated with implacable discipline by the master, who also makes sure that they don't form friendships and punishes them with delight (he even whips one when he recites his lines with no mistakes). Treated like slaves, it is no wonder that boys frequently try to escape: eventually, Douzi and his friend DOuzi succeed, helped by Shitou. The two boys roam the streets of the city and eventually witness the arrival of a famous actor and his troupe. They join the crowd into the theater and witness the standing ovations that is tributed to the great actor. Douzi cries and wants to go back to become an equally great actor. The two boys therefore return just when the master is beating Shitou for helping them. This time Douzi accepts the beating without uttering a word, but this only makes the master more furious. Laizi, instead, hangs himself rather than being beaten again.
Douzi, after screwing up and being brutally punished in front of the troupe's aristocratic mentor, becomes indeed the great actor that he dreamed of becoming. His performance as a girl pleases the imperial eunuch, who demands to see him alone. When Douzi walks (or, better, is carried) into the eunuch's room, he finds an old madman making love to a beautiful naked girl. The girl leaves and the old man turns his lusty attentions to Douzi, who is presumably sodomized. Douzi leaves the palace traumatized. On the way back to the barracks he finds an abandoned child, Xiao Si, and takes him in. The master will raise him and train him to become an actor too.
Japan has invaded China. Douzi and Shitou are now stars of the opera under the monikers Cheng Dieyi and Duan Xiaolou. They live a luxurious life while the students protests against the Japanese in the streets. When the duo enters the stage to perform in front of an ecstatic crowd, we recognize the pair of the first scene. Douzi/ Dieyi, more effeminate than ever, performs again as a girl in "Farewell My Concubine". At the end a cold tall skinny rich patron named Yuan visits the duo backstage bringin them a little reasure of jewelry. He is clearly infatuated with Douzi/ Dieyi, but it looks like Douzi is in love with his old friend and stage partner Shitou/ Xiaolou. Shitou/ Duan Xiaolou, instead, vists an upscale brothel, where his beloved Juxian works and lives. Shitou/ Xiaolou has to defend her from a pack of wild drunk men who harass her. She literally jumps from the upper story into his arms and he tells the crowd that he wants to marry her. This settles the argument, but has repercussions: Juxian leaves the brothel and demands a real marriage, causing Douzi/ Dieyi not only jealous but also heartbroken. Shitou/ Xiaolou has no patience for him and leaves him in the hands of the perverted Yuan. In return, Douzi/ Dieyi is given by Yuan a present he has dreamed ever since: a sword that he first saw in the eunuch's mansion. He brings it to Shitou/ Xiaolou, as he had promised back then, but refuses to join the engagement party and walks out on Juxian and Shitou/ Xiaolou. Just then Japanese troops have entered the city for yet another invasion. Later even the Japanese general gives Douzi/ Dieyi a standing ovation at the end of a performance. Shitou/ Xiaolou. instead, hits a Japanese soldier who insults the Chinese opera and is arrested. Juxian begs Douzi/ Dieyi to help Shitou/ Xiaolou, promising she will go back to the brothel if he saves her husband. Shitou/ Xiaolou is released by the Japanese anyway. Juxian now asks him to leave the opera and get a regular job, while Douzi/ Dieyi accepts to perform for the Japanese. But their old master brings them back together: they beat both, especially Shitou/ Xiaolou, and ignores Juxian that briefly tries to interfere between the men (and is slapped by her own husband). The old master is still training children with the usual despotic manners, but the end is near: one day he collapses to the floor, dead. Douzi/ Dieyi and Shitou/ Xiaolou attend the funeral. They find Xiao Si, who has become a sort of robot, absolutely devoted to becoming a great actor.
The Chinese soldiers attack the theater and denounce Douzi/ Dieyi as a Japanese collaborator. Shitou/ Xiaolou and the other actors try to help and in the commotion Juxian Has a miscarrige. Douzi/ Dieyi is arrested and thrown in a jail. Shitou/ Xiaolou in person begs the powerful Yuan to help. He wouldn't if the cunning Juxian wouldn't show up with the sword that proves Yuan's close relationship with Douzi/ Dieyi. At the trial therefore Yuan testifies that Douzi/ Dieyi was forced by the Japanese to sing. So do Shitou/ Xiaolou and their manager. Unfortunately, Douzi/ Dieyi has no intention to beg for his own life and simply confesses the truth: he sang for the Japanese because he wanted to. Luckily for him, just when he is about to be sentenced to death, he is rescued by soldiers who take him to the theater to perform for no other than the commander of the Chinese nationalists.
Mao's communists enter the city and the nationalists are about to leave for Taiwan. Fortunes have changed: they find the imperial eunuch on a sidewalk, selling cigarettes, his mind gone. The once powerful Yuan is tried publicly as a counter-revolutionary and everybody, including the two actors, is forced to hail the execution. Meanwhile, Douzi/ Dieyi has become addicted to opium. Shitou/ Xiaolou helps him fight it, and Juxian acts surprisingly motherly to him. The theater bow belongs to the (communist) state and Xiao Si is a product of the new era: he refuses to continue the brutal training that would make him a great actor, and doesn't even value the Chinese opera anymore. When Douzi/ Dieyi beats him for failing to practice properly, Xiao Si simply leaves his house. Later Douzi/ Dieyi finds out that he has been replaced by Xiao Si in the role of the concubine. Shitou/ Xiaolou does not want to sing next to the impostor forced on him by the communist party, but it would mean the end of his career, so he goes on stage and sings. Later he tries to apologize to his old stage partner
On the even of the "Cultural Revolution" Shitou and Juxian burn compromising material. Douzi watches them make love from behind a curtain. Shitou is being investigated by the communist authorities, for which Xiao Si now works. The terror regime is such that their old manager has testified against them. Shitou and Douzi are dragged by hundreds of fanatics in the streets and exposed to public humiliation. Shitou ends up accusing his stage brother, admitting that Douzi sang for the Japanese and was in cahoots with the disgraced Yuan, and, as he shouts his accusations, his voice turns to the tone of propaganda that these soldiers use. The screaming soldiers encourage him to burn the costumes. Juxian tries in vain to save the sword that represents the unbreakable ties between the two stage brothers. Douzi, who listened in silence to the accusations, finally wakes up and shouts his outrage against all the people tho betrayed him. He too feels that he has to make accusations, and accuses Juxian of being a former whore. Her own husband, ashamed and scared, then betrays her, claiming he does not love her and repudiates her. All of this happens while the soldiers shout communist slogans. When the soldiers leave the trio among the burned ruins of their past, Juxian walks into the house and hangs herself.
Now we are back to 1977. The two actors, finally reunited, are rehearsing their old show, but they are old and sad. For a moment Douzi adopts again his feminine voice, when he begs for the sword. Then he takes the sword and kills himself.

Feng Yue/ Temptress Moon (1996) is directed in a somewhat sloppy manner that does not help understand the plot. Scenes change abruptly. Characters are not justified.

A girl is told by her father that opium is a good thing. In 1911, in rural China, in the luxurious residence of the Pangs, during a period of political turmoil, the terrible girl Ruyi wreaks havoc in the villa while the news of the abdication of the emperor reaches the elder in the ancestral hall, observed by a boy, Zhongliang. The little Duanwu helps the servants catch the wild Ruyi who has entered the hall, thereby committing sacrilege.
The film fast forwards several years, to the decadent world of opium, trance and languid smiles of Shanghai. Zhongliang's sister Xiuyi is the wife of the heir to the Pang fortune, who is addicted to opium. Zhongliang acts as their diligent servant. The criminal even invites him to lose his virginity with her own sister.
Six months later, Zhongliang has become one of them. He specializes in blackmailing people.
Back in the countryside, the elder Pang has died. His natural heir, Xiuyi's husband, has been reduced by poison to a complete idiot, and so power is given to Ruyi, his sister, and Duanwu is appointed as her assistant.
The criminal boss he works for asks Zhongliang to go visit his sister and to take Ruyi to Shangai. Zhongliang has sex with a rich woman who believes in his love. The truth is that Zhongliang is sleeping with her only so that they can later blackmail her. He is a cold-hearted scoundrel.
Ruyi immediately causes trouble because she sends away the concubines, and the elders are offended she didn't listen to their advice. They are also angry at Duanwu for not stopping her, but he is absolutely faithful to her. Ruyi is still an opium addict and Duanwu serves her. Duanwu is basically doing what Zhongliang used to do for her.
Zhongliang's mission is to seduce Ruyi and help his boss steal her wealth. He rapidly wins her heart, but then becomes himself jealous of Duanwu. His sister is, in turn, jealous of Ruyi's power, but Zhongliang himself is not tender with his sister, because he has not forgotten how she treated like a slave when he was young and poor. Because of their incestuous relations, Zhongliang cannot love anymore. That trauma explains is cold-hearted attitude. Another childhood trauma is responsible for the relationship between Ruyi and Duanwu, who soon can't resist the needs of the flesh and become lovers. But Ruyi also wants to sleep with Zhongliang, claiming that she was merely practicing with Duanwu, except that Zhongliang can't make love to her. His sister begs him in vain to take her with him. Zhongliang, disgusted by the place, travels back to Shangai by himself.
Zhongliang is confronted by the boss and starts crying like a child. He confesses he has been protecting his wealthy lover whom they were supposing to blackmail. The boss decides to send someone else to fetch Ruyi, with the excuse that Zhongliang wants her. Ruyi, who is pregnant, travels with Duanwu. Ruyi and Duanwu see the big city for the first time and are a little scared by the crowd.
The boss decides to "heal" Zhongliang by showing his real nature to his wealthy lover. But when the gangsters tell her that he was part of the scheme to blackmail her, she jumps from the balcony. Then the gangsters decide to do the same with Ruyi: show her her lover's true face. Ruyi in vain asks him if he loves her. He can't answer. Ruyi walks back home distressed. But the moment she opens the door of her apartment, she is raped by Duanwu.
Ruyi and Duanwu travel back to the country villa. Zhongliang follows them there, in vain begged by his sister. This time he finds the strength to say that he loves her, but it is too late: Ruyi has decided to marry and old flame.
Zhongliang, alone, remembers when he prepared the opium for his sister's husband with the poison that turned him into an idiot. He prepares the same opium for her and then leaves. Duanwu will replace her as the head of the family.
Caught in the Web (2012) has a plot that is a typical melodrama but also unleashes a scathing attack against the news media and especially the online platforms, mixed with contempt for the greed and ambition of the business world. The film is worth watching mainly for some interiors, especially when he plays with mirror images. Ye is the chief secretary of the owner of a big company. Her life suddenly disintegrates when the doctor finds that she has terminal cancer. She needs to be hospitalized immediately and the first available day is in a week. On the way back Ye takes a bus and, angry with the world, refuses to leave her seat to an old man. She even insults him. The whole scene is caught on camera (actually a phone) by a young student of journalism, Jiaqi, who later shows it proudly to her advisor Ruoxi, who likes it enough to take credit for it. Meanwhile, Ye breaks down in front of her boss, Shen, and Shen's wife Mo catches them hugging and draws the wrong conclusion. Ye needs a lot of money for the operation, and, of course, needs to take time off. Ye leaves, replaced by the ambitious second secretary Hua. Meanwhile, Jiaqi's cousin has lost his phone to a gang of pickpockets. The damage is not so much the phone put the pictures of his girlfriend, which happens to be Ruoxi the selfish boss of his cousin, and those are pictures of a naked Ruoxi. Shen's wife Mo has an easy life: she spends her husband's money. Now she is furious with Ye though. Jiaqi's video of Ye refusing to yield her seat goes viral on the Web and on TV. Mo further stirs public opinion by making an anonymous call to a TV station and claiming that Ye is also having an affair with a married man. The news escalates. The Internet is soon awash in an avalanche of personal information about Ye. The intern finds Ye and films her apologizing for her behavior, but Ruoxi decides against broadcasting the apology. Jiaqi's cousin owes a huge sum of money. Ye offers him that money if he will spend a week with her, basically providing emotional support. Ye has stolen a much bigger sum from her boss, and her compassionate boss is not calling the police but simply trying to track her down. Ruoxi has taken credit for Jiaqi's video and is happy to see Ye demonized on the Internet. Unfortunately for her, the (false) news of the love affair bring her name to the attention of the powerful and wealthy Shen. It turns out that Hua, another ambitious woman, is a former classmate of Jiaqi. Shen uses Hua to set up a fake video by Jiaqi credited again to Ruoxi for which money is paid to Ruoxi. While Ye and Jiaqi's cousin spend time together and get to like each other, Ruoxi keeps plotting to maximize her success with the story of Ye. However, one day people identify Ye and post pictures of her on the Internet: Ruoxi sees them and her boyfriend is in all of them. Ruoxi is now in Mo's situation, convinced that her boyfriend cheated on her with Ye. Shen, on the other hand, is happy because those pictures prove that Ye was not having an affair with him. Ruoxi suspects that Ye stole her boyfriend for revenge. The boy is furious at Ye for getting him in such an embarrassing situation, and Ye is forced to tell him the truth, that she has terminal cancer. Shen signs an important deal with a foreign businessman and promotes Hua to chief secretary. Ruoxi is called by her boss: the video that she made for Hua turns out to be evidence that she took bribes, because Hua works for Shen. Meanwhile, Ye has paid Jiaqi's cousin, so that he can pay his debts. Ruoxi is mad at Jiaqi for setting her up with Hua, who turned out to be working for the enemy. Ye commits suicide jumping for the top of the building. Shen asks Jiaqi to film him while he cries on her body. Ruoxi is now doubly shamed because she is responsible for ruining the life of someone who was dying of cancer. She never even posted Ye's apology. Jiaqi decides to post it: she now works for Shen and doesn't have to submit to Ruoxi's arrogance.
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