Tuesday, June 18, 2024

“SHE’S GOT NO NAME”

THE STORY – A mysterious murder case in 1940s Shangai unveils the reality and corruption of the country’s justice system while intertwining with the history of the country and the revolution for women’s social rights in China.

THE CAST – Zhang Ziyi, Lei Jiayin. Eric Wang, Jackson Yee, Mei Ting & Zhao Liying

THE TEAM – Peter Chan (Director), Shi Ling, Jiang Feng, Shang Yang & Pan Yiran (Writers)

THE RUNNING TIME – 150 Minutes


There are many unsolved murder cases in the world, many of which still catch people’s attention to this day. “She’s Got No Name” is based on one of the most famous unsolved murder cases in China. The film is a Chinese-Hong Kong crime drama directed by Peter Chan that premiered out of competition at the 77th Cannes Film Festival. With the backdrop of the historical situation of 1940s Shangai, the film invites us to witness one woman’s story and attempt to solve the murder case with the characters involved.

“She’s Got No Name” is based on the non-fiction novel “Reversal of the Case” by Jiang Feng, which Peter Chan credits as his main inspiration and source for the film. The movie is set during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai in the 1940s and focuses on a murder case that quickly rises to national attention in the papers. The case is centered on Zhan Zhou (Zhang Ziyi), a woman who has been charged with the dismemberment of her husband. But the case is a lot more complicated than how it may initially appear: It seems impossible for Zhan Zhou to have executed this bloody murder by herself, and the head of the body cannot be found. As the murder investigation continues, the film also follows different narratives and characters, including the corrupted police inspector, a theatre actress, and a lawyer determined to solve this case.

Zhan-Zhou stands out most in a story populated with so many different characters. She is our enigmatic protagonist, who stands for an intense and powerful commentary on the gender imbalance and the expectations and gender roles placed on women in China at the time. Zhang Ziyi’s scene-stealing performance adds complexity and nuance to this character’s portrayal, elevating the film to a higher level. “She’s Got No Name” sees Zhang Ziyi deliver a powerful performance that ranks as one of her very best.

The film opens a window into the past. While the story may be extremely focused on 1940s China and the country’s history overall, its message is easily universal and understandable by everyone. Unfortunately, these types of stories are not news to many viewers and are a painful part of our present as much as of our past, no matter what country we live in, as the scenes of domestic violence could easily have been taken out of a news story from today. The commentary on gender inequality feels particularly modern and essential in 2024. It is also very fascinating how the plot of the film unfolds with the history of China in the background, as the audience witnesses the change of regime that is pivotal to the murder case being solved.

At its core, however, “She’s Got No Name” is a crime drama with a touch of history, which remains the film’s most impressive aspect. The movie establishes its facts and background information well in the opening scene with an impressive pace that slows down for the rest of the film until the third act. At the beginning of the film, there is no certainty of what actually happened in the murder case we follow, and we don’t find out the truth until the very end when the lawyer attempts to uncover it properly.

During the Cannes press conference, Chan talked about how he reflected very much on the format of this story and whether a movie would be the best way to share it. He mentioned that he envisioned having an intermission halfway through the film so the audience could take a break and, as he said, “Have some wine.” While there were very good reasons why the film ended up being a two-hour-long movie without an interval, one might finf it tedious and overextensive. It’s about more than just the runtime, though, which is admittedly quite daunting, but also about having the time and energy to properly understand and sit with the story on the screen before it’s resolved. The film also has two very distinct parts, with the regime’s fall clearly marking them narratively and historically, which almost feels like two separate films.

On top of its runtime, “She’s Got No Name” struggles to explore all of its characters properly. This is no easy task, given how many fascinating characters are presented and the various streams of narrative that run parallel. Ultimately, it feels like the intense focus on the female characters hurts the others, as they don’t have enough space or screen time to be explored as thoroughly as Zhan Zhou, who remains the most intriguing character. During the entire first half, it feels like the various narratives – and, therefore, the different characters – are disconnected, making it harder to pay attention and keep up with all of them and the period details.

The second half of “She’s Got No Name” is by far the more engaging one. The final act is particularly successful because of how much time and emotional investment has gone into Zhan Zhou and the overall story. It also works well because of the introduction of the lawyer (played by Fan Wei), who acts as the audience’s point of entry into the second half and an authority one can root for, which is not the case in the film’s first half where Xue Zhiwu viciously plays the vile police commissioner, Lei Jiayin.

Overall, “She’s Got No Name” is a fascinating film and still relevant to today’s politics all over the world. It shines a light on a real story of a murder that remains unsolved to this day but ran parallel to a significant moment in time for China and how women were treated. Despite being a real story, it’s not one that many may be familiar with before watching and would not have even heard of until now, which makes it a worthwhile watch. However, given its unnecessarily lengthy runtime, this gripping story on the surface could have been paced better to digest its complex narrative fully.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - The historical background is incredibly fascinating. Unites a real-life personal story with the changing times in China and key historical events that function as the backdrop of this story.

THE BAD - Feels incredibly long. Its runtime may seem daunting and it's certainly not helped by the pacing, which is particularly slow in the film's first half. There are also many different narratives within this story, which may initially seem confusing before they eventually come together.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 5/10

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>The historical background is incredibly fascinating. Unites a real-life personal story with the changing times in China and key historical events that function as the backdrop of this story.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>Feels incredibly long. Its runtime may seem daunting and it's certainly not helped by the pacing, which is particularly slow in the film's first half. There are also many different narratives within this story, which may initially seem confusing before they eventually come together.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>5/10<br><br>"SHE'S GOT NO NAME"