[Film Review] Blind Massage (2014)

Blind Massage poster

English Title: Blind Massage
Original Title: Tui na 推拿
Year: 2014
Country: China, France
Language: Mandarin
Genre: Drama
Director: Lou Ye 娄烨
Ma Yingli 马英力
Bi Feiyu 毕飞宇
Music: Jóhann Jóhannsson
Cinematography: Zeng Jian 曾剑
Qin Hao 秦昊
Guo Xiaodong 郭晓冬
Huang Xuan 黄轩
Zhang Lei 张磊
Mei Ting 梅婷
Huang Lu 黄璐
Jiang Dan 姜丹
Han Zhiyou 韩织优
Huang Junjun 黄军军
Wang Zhihua 王志华
Sun Ke 孙柯
Mu Huaipeng 穆怀鹏
Rating: 7.2/10

Blind Massage 2014

Lou Ye’s ninth feature BLIND MASSAGE is the winner of BEST FEATURE FILM in Golden Horse Awards last year, and yes, it you are a sucker for pan-Chinese cinema scenes, it is a big deal. And before that it won a Silver Berlin Bear for its innovative cinematography for its DP Zeng Jian. Why innovative? Since the film is an ensemble piece revolves around a group of blind people who work in a massage parlor (no hidden agenda intended, it is a bona-fide service for massages only) in Nanjing, China, thus the film creates a distinct subjective angle when it conveys from the perspective of the blind, altering luminosity, frosting the shots and adjusting the coloration, particularly in a pivotal sequence when an equivocal miracle transpires, it is certainly a novelty to meet the eyes, but not essentially a groundbreaking stunt to be visually paradigm-shifting.

Among the cluster of the cast, Lou mixes professional actors with real-life blind (or half-blind) people,  therefore, it is quite challenging for the actors who are acting their blindness with authentic samples. Also, blindness has nuances between inborn and acquired, so judging from the cover, Qin has done a convincing job as the inborn blind co-owner of the parlor, Sha Fuming, whose first name literally means “regain sight” in Chinese, and he exerts great physical endeavor to feign his blindness with great verisimilitude; Huang Xuan plays Xiao Ma, whose blindness is caused by a car accident and now a tenderfoot in the line of work, brilliantly grabs the center stage with his searing engagement of a young boy who is constantly plagued by his sexual urge and finds solace in a working girl Xiao Man (Huang Lu) at a massage parlor in a different kind (yes, this time, it is a shady cat-house), apart from his non-blinking mastery in portraying blindness. Meanwhile veteran actor Guo Xiaodong and Mei Ting’s feigned blindness is pretty inferior in contrast, the former merely squints all the time and the latter is undermined by her big, beautiful eyes, not a blessing for a blind girl. Zhang Lei, who is half-blind in real life, refreshingly contributes a whiff of intimacy and simplicity in her acting debut, she is Xiao Kong, the fiancée of Wang (Guo), their marriage is not blessed by the girl’s family, since stingingly hierarchy also exists in this disadvantaged group, complete-blind doesn’t merit half-blind, this is the nitty-gritty philosophy in modern Chinese society, everything is meticulously measured by its utility and material value. 

Adapted by a rather popular novel of Bi Feiyu, Lou’s film version doesn’t steer clear of the violence of its source, from the opening Xiao Ma’s suicidal attempt with a gory neck gash to an appalling self-mutilated act to pay the debts, Lou continues his acclaimed streak of operating his sharp scalpel to dissect the scourges of humanity in our society, which is something of a curio in contemporary Chinese cinematic outputs. Then regarding of his subjects, Lou relents to build a mostly harmonious rapport among the blind, whereas the sighted is fully responsible for all the trivial strife among the close-knit clique, more less the end is much less blight than one might anticipate in his work. 

To shoot a movie about blind people, is a quite self-contradictory premise, since film is a superlatively sight-contingent type of media, one wonders how many blind audience can actually get the whole picture of it, nevertheless, it doesn’t stop Lou from deploying his gambit, introducing the film with an emotionless female voice-over as a guide for the blind, to articulate the opening credits and painstakingly verbalize the script as much as the film allows. Yet it does induce distraction for the sighted audience, the voice-over is so bland, as if it is directly grafted from a state-ordered documentary, it is a good gesture to show respect to the neglected group, but due to its default setting, it is not expedient at all, a legit “lip service”. 

Anyway, it is enlivening to see films like this as diversity and rationality is something desperately wanting in Chinese film soils. Unlike the blind unpretentiously but none too promisingly seeks their own places in the mainstream society, BLIND MASSAGE does flaunt a bit to acquire its niche footing in the mainstream market, next time, maybe Lou will have more equanimity, or not, for better or worse, sensationalizing could be his brand as in SUMMER PALACE (2006), Lou’s controversial but inflammable love tangle happened under the backdrop of an unspeakable event in recent Chinese history. 

Oscar 2014 - Blind Massage


One thought on “[Film Review] Blind Massage (2014)

  1. Pingback: [Last Film I Watched] Spring Fever (2009) – Cinema Omnivore

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