by Jason Suzuki
Lou Yi-An’s romance thriller White Lies, Black Lies treats deception as a given. There is a lie for every occasion be it public or more intimate. It posits that there are deeper, ulterior feelings effecting journalism, and thus the public, and the what and how we are presented. This everyday spin comes from self-preservation, sort of a modern, cynical take on the Rashomon theory: not that everyone can't help but tell a subjective form of the truth thus no truth, but that everyone's in too deep for their own personal gain that there could never be a truth.
A man takes his dying wife from the hair salon they run to the hospital. Her throat had been cut in what he says was an attempted suicide but he doesn’t stay very long to find out whether she will pull through or to be questioned further by the police. He meets up with a woman who drives away with him shortly after her household dinner with her husband and daughter. Pretty soon the story of Su Junjie (Bo-Chieh Wang) leaving his wife in the hospital gets the police's and then the media's attention. It takes a young journalist (Annie Chen) to find out the woman with Su Junjie is Chou Xiaochen (Wei Ning Hsu), her childhood friend who was living under the abuse of her father when she fell in love with Su Junjie.
Thanks to her personal connection with the suspect(s), Chen is closer to finding the two than the police are, which would hamper he exclusivity on a story any way. But as we cycle between the two lovers, the reporter, and the police, we also alternate between the past and the present. Lou Yi-An blends them together as seamlessly as Mike Flanagan did in Oculus, another movie about the past haunting the present to the point where the two might as well co-exist.
Wei Ning Hsu took home the best actress award from the Taipei Film Festival for this film and two others. Possibly it was awarded to her for the range she shows between those three pictures but it becomes clear that Chou Xiaochen has the most to hide than the other two involved. On multiple occasions throughout her life she has needed to escape the living situations she finds herself in. Love and aspirations for the future were involved in all of her decisions which make it such a juicy story for Chen's reporter, who is simultaneously pursuing a lead (i.e. trying to prove no matter what) on a professor accused of sexually harassing one of his female students. She's a busy gal but it speaks to the kind of potential she sees in Xiaochen's and Sunjie's romance on the lamb.
Once Chen catches up with them Junjie and Xiaochen are hesitant but see how they can use her to their advantage with public opinion once they are eventually caught, despite knowing full well that Chen is in this for much more than helping/believing that childhood friend of her's.
The intricate interweaving of versions of the truth, both compatible and not so, gives the film a greater sense of depth beyond the first-time thrills of uncovering the truth. The twists and revelations are delightfully lurid when going along for the ride but its portrayal of journalism, and its similarity to the white lies of a relationship, is a more subtle take on the authorial nature of the news that gives the film some staying power. Compared to recent Korean efforts such as Confessions of Murder and Tunnel, just as good but much more didactic, Lou’s film remains largely behind the cloak of its small-town mysteries with occasional use of dagger.
Jason Suzuki is co-editor of Cinema Adrift.