Lu Yi Tong’s Lost in Wu Song (Wu Song Da Wo), which was premiered at the 29th Hong Kong International Film Festival, won the Fipresci Prize this year. The success of this film lies in its creative use of the traditional folk hero Wu Song and its ability to demonstrate the conflicts between reality and fantasy with a strong sense of bleak humour.
Wu Song was depicted in Chinese classical literature The Water Margin (Shui Hu Zhuan) as a well-built and bold hero, who singlehandedly killed a tiger after drinking wine. His masculinity appealed sexually to his sister-in-law Pan Jinlian, who had an affair with the womanizing Xi Menqing. Pan even tried to seduce Wu Song but in vain. When Wu Song found that Pan poisoned his short and ugly brother, he killed her out of rage to avenge his brother’s murder. These characters of Wu Song, Pan Jinlian and Xi Menqing have long been appropriated by the stage, films and novels with various interpretations. Wu Song has evolved as the archetype of a super-hero physically and ethically. The interpretation places heavy emphasis on the relationship between Wu Song and his ugly brother, which indirectly condemns the whorishness of Pan Jinlian.
However, Lost in Wu Song attempts to deconstruct the traditional hero beyond space and time, the East and the West, success and failure. The film is intriguing due to the fact that the story unfolds in three different dimensions: the reality, the film within a film and the imagination of the ideal Wu Song. As the story develops, these three spheres eventually tangle with each other, blurring the boundaries between them. The director employs a sophisticated montage technique, cleverly juxtaposing the respective layers that create ironic and dramatic conflicts. This satirical comedy also exhibits an excellent sense of découpage and precise pace, resulting in a smooth flow of the story.
By decontructing the hero Wu Song, the film reflects on traditional values and challenges the patriarchy in Chinese society. Wu Song used to epitomise an unquestioned masculine world; he is strong, powerful and moral. But when the director intends to represent Wu Song in the modern context, the ideal Wu Song becomes an outdated, blunt and brainless person. In the legend, Wu Song killed Pan Jinlian and the tiger for a good cause, and he was given super-hero status. The use of violence was legitimized because of the moral motive. Nevertheless, when the present day Wu Song applies the same macho force, he is merely treated as a criminal. Wu Song is reduced to an implusive and stubborn idiot.
The film also serves as a critique on the film industry, through the compromises made by the director Men Desong (the fictional director in the film, sharing the same name ‘Song’ with Wu Song), in favour of the film investor and the contradictions between artistic and market considerations. After constant battles with the investor, Men Desong ultimately fails to shoot his dream film of his idolized Wu Song, signifying the non-existence of a perfect masculine world. The ending of the film, simultaneously, implicates Men Desong as impotent as a man and a director in exercising his authority over his own creation.
Interestingly enough, while Lost in Wu Song conveys the message of the collapse of a masculine world, a male voice-over is used to ‘construct’ the story; demonstrating Men Desong’s desire, frustration and disillusion; showing countless fighti scenes among the male protagonists. Despite the fact that the modern Pan Jinlian empowers Men Desong, she is not given much significance but simply doomed as a sex object as in ancient times.