Mystery thriller puts female spin on voyeurism
Maggie Lee Maggie Lee – Sun Mar 28, 9:37 pm ET

HONG KONG (Hollywood Reporter) – Through its two protagonists — a photographer and a novelist who become inordinately curious about an illicit affair in their Taipei neighborhood — “Zoom Hunting” explores voyeurism with echoes of “Rear Window” and “Blow Up.”

The suspense mystery marks a promising directing debut by Cho Li, who loads her tightly woven screenplay with carefully constructed revelations. Observing her subjects’ obsessions with cool-headed distance, the film maintains an intelligent objectivity, but loses out in tension and cinematic power in some emotionally under-charged key scenes.

Poised somewhere between commercial and independent filmmaking, the competently developed, but not thrillingly original concept could attract a small-scale semi-arthouse crowd. The film will be released in Taiwan through Warner Bros. A Hong Kong theatrical release is also rumored to be in the pipeline.

Fashion magazine photographer Ruyi (Ning Chang) inadvertently captures a couple (Wen Sheng-Hao and Zhou Heng-Yin) in flagrante while taking casual snapshots from her balcony. When she realizes that their union is adulterous, she compulsively stalks them with her camera. Around the same time, Ruyi’s novelist sister, Ruxing (Zhu Zhi-Ying), suddenly overcomes her writer’s block and pens an amour fou whose plot evolves into premeditated murder.

The story stays steadily on course without straying into peripheral characters or subplots, leading to a teasing ending that invites more than one interpretation. Cho’s narrative technique could have appeared more polished if she did not rely so much on lengthy verbal explanations to divulge the mystery.

In addition to being a crime mystery, the film lightly broaches the ethics of art. In one scene, Ruxing argues that “voyeurism is the mother of creativity.” It poses the interesting issue of the creative impulse and the art of representation as intrinsically a form of intrusion into others’ lives.

Hong Kong cinematographer Kwan Pun-Leung reinforces the central motif of seeing with fluid camerawork, extracting plenty of visual interest from a commonplace urban neighborhood and achieving good depth-of-field. Cheung Ka-Fai’s smooth editing does not follow the stock jerky rhythm of genre films. The film’s music has a laid-back, Continental feel.

In this genre, peeping Toms tend to be stereotyped as men, while women are objectified by the male gaze. “Zoom Hunting” offers the alternative to examine the mind-set and behavioral pattern of women who are voyeurs, though the female perspective that emerges is not so distinct. While Ruxing’s actions are backed by credible motives, Ruyi’s character remains that of functional observer despite being the catalyst. Chang has a spirited presence and Zhu an aura of mystery, but not enough psychological depth has gone into their characterization.

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