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The voyeuristic Taiwanese suspense drama “Zoom Hunting” marks the directorial debut of Cho Li, who previously worked as producer on the likes of “Winds of September” and Singing Chen’s excellent “God Man Dog”. Co-written by Kelly Yang, the film is an elaborate puzzle revolving around half seen images of sex and murder, with Ning Chang (recently in “Black and White” and “What on Earth Have I Done Wrong?”) and Zhu Zhi Yin (“Lust, Caution”) as two sisters living in an apartment block, who start spying on a couple living opposite and get more than they bargained for. The film also features a strong supporting cast that includes Jack Kao (“Shinjuku Incident”), James Wen (“My Queen”), Zhou Hen Yin, and Michelle Krusiec (“Saving Face”).
The plot kicks off as a fashion photographer called Ru Yi (Ning Chang) accidentally takes a picture of a couple (James Wen and Zhou Hen Yin) having sex in the building opposite her sister’s apartment. After Ru Yi spots the woman and her family while out shopping, she deduces that the man in the picture was actually her lover, and decides to investigate further, spending her nights on the balcony with her camera. Her detective novelist sister Ru Xing (Zhu Zhi Yin) also gets involved, basing her new book around the steamy scenario and using it to help put an end to a prolonged bout of writer’s block. Although it initially seems like a bit of harmless fun, Ru Yi soon realises that there may be something more complicated and sinister going on, quite possibly implicating the increasingly secretive Ru Xing.
Unsurprisingly, the two most immediate points of reference for “Zoom Hunting” are Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” and Antonioni’s “Blowup”, both of which it draws upon quite openly with its tale of ambiguous photographs and voyeuristic surveillance. Of course, if handled correctly, this kind of gambit can be very effective, and thankfully Cho Li does a very good job of keeping the viewer guessing and disoriented. Most of the film is seen from Ru Yi’s perspective as she investigates, and as such the drama unfolds through her eyes, or more precisely through the lens of her camera.
The film plays upon this for an effective air of uncertainty, as well as making the most of Ru Xing’s writing the apparent extra marital affair into her novel, which leads to all kind of switching between fact and fiction, not to mention several cases of mistaken identity. The assertion that ‘peeping is the mother of creativity’, is repeated many times throughout the course of the film, and it certainly includes a great deal of illicit spying, with photos, hidden video cameras, CCTV and wiretaps all being used. In-keeping with its themes, the film is a fairly racy affair, with a number of sex scenes, and though these suggest more than they actually show, they do give the proceedings a fittingly adult feel.
Thankfully, the plot itself never gets too caught up in the details, and although it does get fairly manipulative in places, it remains well structured and engagingly told. There are quite a few twists along the way, and the film does undergo a significant shift around the hour mark, though this is navigated successfully, with Cho laying the cards on the table whilst raising more questions. Things do get very tense towards the end, with several unexpected developments and character shifts, and as the pieces of the puzzle slowly creep into place the film becomes more of a traditional suspense thriller. Although this does mean that it eventually abandons some of its early art house leanings for more obvious and generic devices, most glaringly an old doorman who clearly is going to end up providing at least some of the answers, these all work pretty well, and the film benefits from a satisfying and intelligent wrap up without too much in the way of coincidence or melodrama.
All of this combines to make “Zoom Hunting” a superior slice of modern urban drama, with Cho managing to balance its potentially weighty themes and premise with solid entertainment values. A good and well thought out piece of efficient storytelling, the film successfully keeps the viewer on edge through to the end, offering more twists and turns than most of the year’s bigger budgeted and flashier suspense outings.
Li Cho (director) / Li Cho (screenplay)
CAST: Chun-Ning Chang, Zhu Zhi-Ying, Sheng-hao Wen, Heng-yin Chuo, Michelle Krusiec, Shih-chieh Chin, Jack Kao, Chien-wei Huang