It’s possible to admire a film without particularly liking it.
Filmmaker Midi Z’s Nina Wu concerns an actress mistreated by the film industry, a disturbing tale of debasement that implicates all involved, including the viewer. It’s a film about filmmaking, and the hard reality that underpins all that fantasy. Expect to be uncomfortable.
Ke-Xi Wu — who wrote and stars here — drew from her own experiences as an actor to create this vaguely hallucinogenic outing about a #MeToo work experience involving mental and physical exploitation.
In an industry that prizes youth above all else, Nina is close to her Best Before date. She’s making a living as a cam girl, and there’s not much on offer in the movie biz. Then her agent talks her into auditioning for a dodgy feature involving full frontal nudity, all of it couched in the usual language of professionalism, insight and art. There’s an immediate pall over the proceedings and the ennui that comes with knowing what comes next; you know and so does Nina.
From the beginning, everything about the audition and the film shoot involves Nina being treated like a dog, a metaphor only sometimes. The action is initially brisk and often blackly funny, particularly as Nina has various near-death experiences at work and nobody else seems to notice.
Whether she’s almost being hit by a car or getting throttled by the director, Nina is reduced to a nameless, faceless prop; it doesn’t help that her mental state is ostensibly telegraphed through horror-movie-type glimpses of misplaced creepy crawlies: cue the large cockroach.
Likewise in horror mode, Nina’s nightmares are interspersed with moments of ugly reality to the point where you become uncertain about which is which. There’s a lot of Nina wandering up and down a hotel corridor in a particular red dress, a visual dream moment repeated to the point of tedium. Then the dream segments begin to include meaningless bits of erotica, perhaps to indicate how an audience willingly participates in whatever befalls Nina.
Nina becomes a star because of the movie. She’s a darling of the film festival circuit and does a press conference — again, it’s comical, and the media’s role in what’s happening is underlined here.
Then Nina returns to her rural roots, and the story changes. Those from her past call her by a different name, and rural innocence is vaguely mocked but also held up as desirable in contrast to Nina’s big city life and celebrity. Maybe this is filmmaker Midi Z talking about himself.
Here is Nina’s past, her family, her beloved dog; that pet joins the canine theme throughout, whether it’s a New Year family gathering to celebrate the Year of the Dog or desperate actresses barking on all fours. What does it all mean? No idea.
By the time Nina appears in public in nothing but plastic wrap, a nightmare scenario filmed by every bystander with an iPhone, the idea seems to be that this industry makes complete exposure and destruction available.
That scene is preceded by one in which an actress pleads, “Pick me, I’ll do anything,” so there’s nowhere left to hide — everyone is culpable. It’s all so ugly and brutal!! And strangely comical. Maybe that’s just us.
Besides the elusive meaning and the many nods to other filmmakers in here, Nina Wu suffers a bit from being way too inside baseball. It will be interesting to see how that’s received by general audiences.
In Mandarin with English subtitles.