At the time of its release, Double Xposure (2012) was marketed as an erotic psychological thriller which is only half-true. Set in modern-day China, the film follows Song Qi (Fan Bingbing) a plastic surgeon who leads a pretty comfortable life until she finds out her boyfriend Liu Dong (Feng Shaofeng) is having an affair with her best friend Xiaoxi (Huo Siyan). When she confronts both her boyfriend and her best friend about the affair, a heartbroken Song Qi is then driven to commit acts of murder and revenge.
Indeed, the film is a twisty thriller but there is barely any hint of eroticism meaning those coming into the film with the expectation that this will contest Chinese censors with something sexually charged won’t find that here. Instead, you can expect to see a story about a woman who descends into madness, which honestly is just as enticing when you think of similar films in the past that have managed to pull this off with varying levels of success: Rosemary’s Baby, Black Swan, or more appropriately, Raise the Red Lantern come to mind.
Yet somehow the film doesn’t seem to think this route is interesting enough for a two-hour long feature and opts for a different story altogether in its second half; a story which involves Song Qi retracing her past and reaching into the depths of her memory. It’s a baffling narrative decision which ultimately undoes a lot of what makes its first half a genuinely compelling watch.
And what makes that first half a compelling watch? Fan Bingbing. Up until Double Xposure, the Chinese megastar had already proved to independent film audiences that she was perfectly capable at drama in her previous films with Chinese filmmaker Li Yu (Buddha Mountain and Lost in Beijing), which had thus cemented the actress as a talent in her own right. Double Xposure was the pair’s first attempt at a commercial film together and in their third collaboration, Yu directs Fan to a career-best performance.
It is an absolute delight to see Fan let loose as a woman on the brink of mental collapse — material the actress isn’t always afforded. It’s a nice break from the usual doe-eyed roles of love interests and wives that she has been typically cast as and her performance in Double Xposure is certainly an eye-catchingly fun one that carries the film even through its out-of-place second half.
Concerning the film’s editing, similar problems exist here as they did in Lost in Beijing. While it can be argued that the frequent use of jump cuts is more appropriate in Double Xposure — helping to illustrate Song Qi’s frame of mind as the story progresses — it would be nice if director Li learned to hold onto her shots just a bit longer for the sake of the actors’ performances. Additionally, the excessiveness of jump cuts in the first half of the film do make it go by much quicker which isn’t entirely bad until you realise the second half doesn’t use quite as much, thus affecting momentum drastically.
This all adds up to a film that essentially doesn’t know what to do with itself past its first half. The ingredients for an edgy contemporary drama in China are there but I am not at all inferring that this film had narrative problems because of censorship in China (because honestly, if writer-director Li Yu scripted her film the way she did, it was with intent and not as a means to be more accommodating of China’s censors). What I am suggesting is that the film could have done with a few more script revisions before going into production as what is currently presented in the film is narratively weak and is a disservice to Fan Bingbing’s great performance in the film.
That said, I for one am looking forward to more seeing more working partnerships between Li Yu and Fan Bingbing as the director has brought out the best in the star. It’s also an exquisitely shot film and certainly very nice to look at but that doesn’t mask some of the film’s other weaknesses. Double Xposure might be a misstep for director Li but for Fan Bingbing this is arguably her best dramatic role to date. See it if only to chart the evolution of Fan as an actress.