“I really can’t take it anymore. You’re not only destroying my body, but my soul.”
An actress gets the roll of a lifetime in the Taiwanese film Nana Wu, directed by Midi Z. But while it may be a dream come true, it creates nightmares that she must try to figure out. What she discovers will put her career into a completely different light.
The title character (played by Wu Ke-Xi, who co-wrote the script) has spent eight years eking out a career doing bit roles. She is offered a leading role, but is a bit unsure because it involves nudity and a sex scene. Her agent tells her that she’s free to turn it down. But he also notes that this is an excellent role—the kind that can make a career.
We watch as the film is made, seeing occasional abusive behavior by the director. When the film is finished everyone thinks a new star has been found. Meanwhile Nina returns to her small hometown where she is reunited with her former lover who is still acting in a production of The Little Prince done for school children. When she returns for pre-opening publicity, she is pressed about the sex scenes of the film. She responds by stating she is a professional actress.
While on the trip, she begins to have nightmares—usually featuring the color red and frequently involving hallways (which also play a role in the film she was starring in). As we watch these nightmares (and some daytime events that may or may not be real) we sense that there is something from her past that is trying to find its way into Nina’s consciousness. Little by little, Nina begins to piece together the memories that reveal the true nature of her experience.
It is of interest that the quote I open the review with is a line from the film within a film. We hear Nina practicing the line before auditions. We also see her deliver the line in what is obviously a key scene of the film she is making. That line serves to help us understand not just the character Nina is portraying, but the feeling that is within her that is struggling to make its way to the surface.
In press notes, Wu Ke-Xi references stories involving the Asian film industry and the abuse of actresses. These stories were coming to light around the same time that the #MeToo movement began to raise similar issues in Hollywood. These stories highlight emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. This film is a reminder of the scars that such abuse can leave.
Nina Wu is opened in limited virtual cinema locations, expanding to more and to VOD on April 2.
Photos courtesy of Film Movement.