Chen Kaige's latest film, an old-fashioned melodrama about the dangers of new technology, was China's entry for the 2013 best foreign-language Oscar. That it's only now being dumped into the marketplace is easily fathomable: "Caught in the Web" is an unpleasant cudgel of a film — dour, moralistic and eager to thump.
A stony Gao Yuanyuan stars as Lanqiu, the elegant administrative assistant to a top executive (Wang Xueqi). After receiving a diagnosis of advanced lymphatic cancer, she's too distracted to hear an elderly man asking for her bus seat. Unbeknownst to her, the ignored request is filmed by a wannabe TV journalist, and the footage soon goes viral.
This premise lands the film squarely in the genre of stories where a woman needs only to utter a single unembarrassing fact about herself — in Lanqiu's case, that she's suffering from a terminal illness — but refuses to do so out of some vague sense of noble self-sacrifice. But the moral heroines of this genre, Lanqiu included, are rarely sympathetic — merely frustrating.
Yet the biggest failure of "Caught in the Web" is the relative tameness of Lanqiu's fate. The short history of the Internet is already full of much scarier stories about people logged on to the wrong site at the wrong time. Chen's grand opus about the perils of the Internet already feels obsolete.
"Caught in the Web."
MPAA rating: Not rated.
Running time: 2 hours, 1 minute.
Playing: Sundance Sunset Cinema, West Hollywood.
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