Food: This evening was one of my best friends birthdays and so after testing out some of the nearby restaurants, I brought her to my favorite for a night out – The Empire Hotel bar. We ordered the Mushroom Flatbread for the table, which is incredible and comes with about 14 small pieces, which we split by two. I went with the spruced up Moscow Mule and my friend got an aperol spritz. It was the perfect meal and enjoyed the views.
Film: “Saturday Fiction” is an artistic Chinese drama by Lou Ye that takes place in 1941, and follows a famous actress, Jean Yu (played excellently by Gong Li), who returns from Hong Kong to Japanese-occupied Shanghai to star in the Lyceum Theater production of ‘Saturday Fiction’, a play put on by her ex-lover, Tan Na (Mark Chao). Despite the romantic initial scene, a smoky cafe where Tan and Jean reconnect and embrace among a crowd of twirling to the piano, the story becomes quickly convoluted.
Jean Yu is a different woman to everyone, and the film blends fiction (of the play that is being put on) and reality (the plot of the film itself) in a myriad of ways. As viewers, it is difficult to separate the two – which is done purposefully, but unfortunately, with a complicated plot, the action gets muddled. In other words, Lou Ye tried to do too much.
Yu is pulled in every direction, as she struggles between her many alliances. Though she has come into town for the play, she also has an ex-husband (Zhang Songwen) who is being held in jail by Japanese authorities. There is a juxtaposition at play between her role as an actress, and her ability to act in her role as a spy for the French intelligence community. Yes, her foster father, Frederic (Pascal Greggory), is an agent who runs Mata Hari espionage missions, and summons her for help. She checks in at the French Concession’s Cathay Hotel, where manager Saul Speyer (Tom Wlaschiha, ironically the “Faceless Man” from Game of Thrones), is also conducting intelligence operations for the Allied Forces. To make matters more confusing, she is playing a double-agent in Tan’s play.
In a mess of tangled allegiances, we also have a reckless producer Mo Zhiyin (Wang Chuanjun), and a young female reporter who memorizes Yu’s ‘Saturday Fiction’ lines and introduces herself as a fan, Bai (Huang Xiangli), who bears resemblance to Yu and finds herself lost in the mix. This film is a bit of a fun-house noir. It is filmed in rainy weather in a chiaroscuro black and white hue, with each character puffing down cigarettes like it’s oxygen in order to provide copious amounts of lovely swirling smoke. Similar to how I feel about “The Big Sleep” (1946), it is enjoyable to watch and pretty to look at, if you can accept that the plot makes very little sense.
Lou Ye’s “Saturday Fiction” comments on the various roles we play in society. After all, “All the world’s a stage,/ And all the men and women merely players.”