Killing Me Softly (2002)

Directed by Kaige Chen
Written by Sean French and Nicci Gerrard, Kara Lindstrom
Produced by Donna Grey, Michael Chinich, Joe Medjuck, Lynda Myles, Anna Chi, Daniel Goldberg, Tom Pollock, Ivan Reitman
Starring Heather Graham, Joseph Fiennes, Natascha McElhone, Jason Hughes, Amy Robbins, Kika Markham, Ian Hart, Ulrich Thomsen, Yasmin Bannerman, Rebecca Palmer, Ronan Vibert

“I’m so bored,” is the hypergamous knell by which any given (usu. white) attractive, western woman verbalizes her capricious intent to wreck her life with a macho maniac, as when a corporate web designer (Graham) is prompted by a salacious spleen at first glance to dump her drearily reliable, homely boyfriend (Hughes) for a dashing, heroic, aggressive, exhaustingly venturesome mountaineer (Fiennes), with whom she leaps dizzyingly from their fervid fling into matrimony before anonymous, obliquely monitory letters move her to probe his mysterious past. His string of picturesque, often sublime period dramas during the ’80s and ’90s culminated in the flawed yet opulently staged and unprecedentedly expensive The Emperor and the Assassin, after which Chen’s first picture of the new millennium was this melodramatically erotic thriller set in London, in which nearly everything is ridiculously riotous: rushing manual and dollied shots; dissolved freeze-frames; a frantically fluctuating tone; oddly overlit exteriors and interiors; ugly costumery (esp. Fiennes’s vast pants); goofily glaring dubbed dialog and foley; Patrick Doyle’s fruitily mincing score; at least three incongruently individual sets integrated as the home of Fiennes’s complete climber; zanily overexpressive dramatic flourishes; stereotypes wackily enacted over the highest mountainous peaks. Maybe the greatest misstep of his career was spurred by Chen’s libidinous flight from the (rather judicious) sexual restrictions imposed on Chinese movies, which probably prevented the repeated sight of Gong Li in the explicitly lush buff as are here his gorgeous, gratifying leads, who feigned crisp copulation before cameras for over a week in scenes that were foreshortened and deleted. This is what happens when a Chinese director entranced by sexy, extroverted white people in a liberal culture pretermits nearly all of his well-honed instincts: one of the funniest inadvertent comedies ever to emulate Lifetime’s and Cinemax’s formulae with higher production values and popular stars.

Recommended for a double feature and laugh riot paired with Fifty Shades of Grey.

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