Confusing the Mermaid

Kiel Weber

Suzhou River represents a story told about true love by the narrator to his girlfriend, Meimei. The story unfolds from Meimei's desire to be involved in a fantastical love, which resembles the great romances found in literature. Everytime she drinks too much, Meimei asks if the narrator will follow her if she leaves. She wants the narrator to chase her like Mardar does, but the narrator does not know who Mardar is, and from that the story takes shape. The narrator takes the idea of a questing hero for his long lost love, and tells the story of how Mardar and Mudan fell in love.
The narrator follows a motorcycle outside the window with his videocamera, and the story begins to take form. Mudan and Mardar's relationship represents everything that love is supposed to be in our minds. Mudan attaches herself to her man with reckless abandon, and waits for every moment she spends with him. Mardar appears unmoved by her affection, but underneath his uncracked demeanor he also becomes enamored with Mudan. In his betrayal of her trust and love, his affection becomes apparent. For a small ransom, Mardar kidnaps Mudan and holds her captive until the money is delivered to his partner. When Mudan works out her lover's betrayal, she flees and Mardar chases. His love is obvious as she runs, and he attempts to catch her. At a bridge, she hangs from its edge and challenges Mardar's love. She threatens that one day she will return as a mermaid and haunt him for his crimes, and then plunges to what seems to be his death. Mardar condemns himself to finding the love that he threw away.
The narrator has invented this story for Meimei, who works as a "mermaid" at the Happy Tavern. The narrator wants to make Meimei believe their love transcends like that of the story. Meimei allows herself to fall into the story, and it starts to mirror reality. She believes the narrator is like Mardar, someone who will faithfully follow her and search for her. In truth, he tantilizes her with his lies and stories. Meimei's belief in the story is displayed by her changing into Mudan's persona. Her character at the Happy Tavern, the mermaid, resembles Mudan's interest in mermaids. She puts on a press on tattoo of a peony flower, like the description that the narrator gives. Eventually, she even challenges the narrator to find her if she leaves, and he consents.
This is where the narrator refutes the story that he has been telling Meimei all along. He refuses to chase his hopelessly romantic girlfriend. Instead, he drinks himself to a stupor on the river as a refutation of his entire love story. He would rather be realistic, and not pursue a fairy tale version of love. This leaves Meimei as a victim of falling deeply into a love that was not really there, and she is destined to be an unpursued mermaid. Suzhou River denounces the idea of a traditional hero, who will follow all the rivers of the world to find his true love. The new love appears to be a relationship in which one takes all they can get, as long as it's convenient, only then to cast it aside when it no longer proves worthwhile. In the end, the mermaid is confused after listening to all the lies, the entire story, and then not have it come true. True love is abandoned like mermaids in fairy tales, replaced by the actual world and the relationships it contains.

Fairy Tragedy

Jose Hasemann

Suzhou River is an existentialist tale of love and a classic tragedy. Every character in the film is defined by what they do or, more importantly at times, what they don't. The general tone of a story is maintained by the constant presence of a narrator that plays no active role in the events that unfold (seen I believe when the narrator tells Mardar that Meimei is his girlfriend and still Mardar gets laid, sorry, makes love to her). Thus the narrator is telling two stories at the same time, using both scenarios to contrast and compare reality from make believe, or a tragedy from a fairy tale; fairy tale in the sense that the story is fanciful and unlikely.
The fairy tale portion of the story is led by Moudan and Mardar (engine and peony flower respectively); both their names are riddled with majestic overtones defining them as the bold hero and the damsel in distress. This might be oversimplifying the facts, since Mardar takes advantage of her, but come on, he even has a motorcycle, or valiant steed if you will. I also see the innocence in Moudan representative of her pure state, as any fair maid should be. In a proper fairy tale, not the stylized Disney versions, you also find the gore that is present during the search and the end. Just like the prince in Cinderella that goes looking for his princess only to find her step sisters willing to hack there limbs to get there foot in the shoe. So does Meimei hack at herself for wanting to be with Mardar, eventually Mardar realizes the shoe doesn't fit and leaves.
The tragic portion of this film is seen in through the squalid view of the narrator. The narrator ultimately fails to act because he as much as Meimei are trapped in someone else's fairy tale. He even realizes how sad his state of affairs is and decides to get Mardar beat up. I think he might have known Mardar was dipping in the cookie jar. Meimei on the other hand wasn't telling Mardar to go away or ever got bored of listening to Mardar��s story over and over because she thought it was really about her. Both these characters are looking for something that just isn't there. Their truth about love is that they want it but don't know what it is, which leads to an almost sickly infatuation and just as sick dependence.
In the end I believe Lou Ye is giving us his own perspective on Love. What is real about it or not, letting the viewer in the end decide for himself which version suits best. Both stories are resolved at the end, Mardar and Moudan are together, and the narrator and Meimei are once again apart. Although Lou Ye might be leaning towards the tragic side because in the end Meimei always came back. I guess that's how she liked to spice it up.

The River Of Life

Greg DeCarolis

Lou Ye's 2000 film Suzhou River has strong existential undertones that underscore the significance of the river itself. In the movie, the Suzhou River is shown as a place where many Shanghai residents thrive. They work and live on the river despite its dirty, opaque water. For each of the main characters in the film, the river has a certain significance. For Mardar, it is a reminder of how he lost Moudan and how he must find her again. For Moudan, it is a means of escape; first when she runs away from Mardar, and then again when she and Mardar kill themselves by jumping into it. For Meimei, the Suzhou River is representative of her life; she lives on it and works as a mermaid, a water-dwelling creature. For the narrator, the river has a much different meaning. He equates the movement of the Suzhou to his relative ambivalence towards his own life.
Mardar views the Suzhou River as the place where Moudan jumped off and left him for three years. It reminds him of his former lover and how he has a mission to go on. For him, the river is a means of taking away life. It takes away the way of life he had with Moudan and in the end it takes away both of their actual lives. Moudan's view is similar but not identical. She sees it as a place of getaway, even rebirth. When she jumps off the bridge while running from Mardar, she begins a new life working at a 24-hour convenience store. When he finally comes back for her, she is prepared to make another getaway, this time with him. They jump into the river together to make sure they will be together forever; never again separated.
The Suzhou River means something completely different to Meimei; it represents her day-to-day life and livelihood. She lives on the river in a houseboat, so she is automatically connected to it in a very deep way. When it moves, she is moved; when it is calm, she is calm. Her job is working as a mermaid in a tank of water at a bar, so this is another connection. The mermaid image fits her well since she already lives in the water. Her entire world is based around water. Eventually, she sees the river as a reminder of the romantic story of Mardar and Moudan, but for the most part, the water is how she eats, sleeps, and works.
Finally we come to the narrator, who I feel is the most interesting character in the movie. The Suzhou represents his life as well, but not in the same way as Meimei's. Her connection to the river is very physical, literal. The narrator's connection is spiritual. In a very existentialist mindset, he sees the river as indicative of his outlook on life. For him, life merely consists of being carried along by a current, and looking at some pretty sights along the way. He gets somewhat involved; he has a girlfriend and expresses some feelings towards events that take place. However, when it comes down to showing how ��into�� his own life he is, he backs down, instead choosing to get drunk on the Suzhou and wait for the next story to unfold before his eyes.

Follow Your Dreams?

Chad Brown

Suzhou River, directed by Lou Ye, seemed to be set in a sort of dream world even from the opening scene, in which a fisherman sees a mermaid near the pier while traveling on the river. The film follows the stories of two people who are in love, Mardar and Moudan. Their entire story is told by the narrator, a photographer who is presented to the viewer in the form of a first person view, signifying that he is telling the story from his perspective. His motive for telling the story of two fated lovers seems to be to salvage his own relationship with his girlfriend Mei Mei, who coincidentally bears a striking resemblance to Moudan. In the end, this seems to backfire on the narrator as Mei Mei ultimately becomes estranged and leaves him in order to inspire his pursuit, but he realizes that all good things must come to an end and decides to get drunk on a boat instead.
From the opening scenes of the movie, the viewer comes under the impression that our photographer narrator is fabricating the whole story of Mardar and Moudan. It seems that he is attempting to woo his girlfriend Mei Mei and has constructed a whole fantasy world in which love is the most powerful force in existence. Mardar is a very hip and attractive motor cycle courier who travels the streets in a free and untamed manner. Moudan is a beautiful and very innocent girl who only seeks Mardar's love and affection. The fact that her appearance is identical to that of Mei Mei gives the impression that these characters are fictional, but are idealized versions of the narrator and Mei Mei, who are occupants of the ��real�� world.
The story of Mardar and Moudan begins as a typical tragic love story that one may compare to Romeo and Juliet, but takes a very interesting twist as it seems to be coming to a close. Mardar ends up betraying Moudan when he helps his friends to hold her for ransom. Feeling as though Mardar does not value her worth, Moudan escapes him and jumps from a bridge and into the Suzhou River, vowing that she will return as a mermaid. Mardar ends up being caught by the police and spends several years in jail. He is eventually released and spends the rest of his life searching for his long lost love. This seems to be the end of the story, but the narrator decides that he wants the two lovers to be reunited and continues telling the story where he left off. This marks a turning point within the story, as the narrator includes himself as well as Mei Mei into the story as well.
When the narrator includes himself and his lover Mei Mei into the story, the lines of reality and fiction become blurred. Mei Mei becomes confused and disillusioned when she discovers the bodies of Mardar and Moudan and flees from the narrator in the hopes that he will search for her in the way that Mardar searched for Moudan. The narrator, on the other hand, decides that he will not chase her and passes out drunk, realizing that such a story is not realistic.
The moral of the story seems to be that fantasies can be fun and entertaining, but ultimately do not ��hold water�� in the real world. I am certain that the narrator and Mei Mei would have both been better off had they not become entangled within this fictional world. I feel that they may have been able to work through their relationship if they had not become invested in such a fairy tale love, but once they became apart of the story, they began to yearn for a love that they could never achieve, and ultimately became unhappy and disillusioned with their relationship because of this.

Filling the Void: Blind Searching

Chris Seeds

Suzhou River is a film that shows the power of love and what affect it can have over people. Love is probably one of the strongest emotions that a human can experience. With that said, love can have control of what you do and what you believe. Just as the saying goes,�� love makes you do crazy things,�� that is evident in this film.
In the beginning of this film, the viewer is introduced to the main character, a videographer. Throughout the entire movie, you never see his face, just the jerkiness of the shot lets you know he is there. After one of his filming jobs, he comes into contact with Meimei, a woman who works at a local bar. The videographer and her start a relationship, but the videographer blindly keeps on loving Meimei after she leaves him every couple of days. He has no idea where she goes and no clue of when she will return, but he blindly waits for her return. He never once suspects that she may be having a relationship on the side, with someone else. This is an example of the power of love, and how it can affect what you see and how you feel.
At one point Meimei tells a story, almost fairytale, about a motorcycle courier that finds true love. The circumstances are that Marda, the courier, finds love on the job. On a regular basis he took home a girl, Mudan, and at one point Marda is part of operation that is going to kidnap Mudan, and hold her for ransom. Her father is a wealthy alcohol salesman. Even after the kidnapping, Marda still has feelings for the girl. Once the act is complete, Marda landed himself in jail because of it. After his time in jail, Marda started his search for the girl that he loved. He did not even know if she was even still alive, but love clouded his vision. After looking around the city, he came across Meimei, who he believed to be Mudan. They did look similar but not the same person. Love had him blinded, so that a complete stranger, whom he had never met, could be the woman that he love.
An abstract view of this film is that love is very powerful, and more importantly that your mind is willing to accept anyone to fill the void that is in your soul. In the case of Marda, he was willing to accept that this woman, Meimei, who he did not even know, was the love of his life. Meimei was thusly filling the void in his soul, which was once occupied by Mudan. It is the void in your soul that causes you to search for something to fill it. In the videographer's case, he did not have the void, so he thought. In actuality he did have a void, but love was blinding him from seeing the void, in addition to the fact that Meimei was not really in love with him. The emptiness in one's soul can be attributed to making irrational decisions, similar to the decisions made while love is blinding you.
It is a combination of these two aspects of life, love and filling your souls void, that make a person to make decisions that they would normally not make. I think the film is also touching on the idea that much of modern China has a void in their soul, and that what they are filling it up with will kill them, spiritually or physically. This is seen in the end of the movie, where Marda and Mudan die, and Meimei leaves. Traditional values were very non-existent in this film and I think that it has to do with the point that modern China is missing that. Voids in ones soul is something that many people have, but what matters is what you choose to fill the void. Every soul needs something to fill it up, whether it is love, money, or alcohol. The yearning to fill the void is what persuades one to make decisions that may not be the most rational.

Love Squared

Avery Harris

A story within a story, told by a mysterious storyteller, whose hands are the only part that is shown throughout the film. This is not a story about love, but passion, obsession, purity, and beauty. When someone falls in love, it seems eternal, the feeling is addictive. This particular story, tells of the obsessive search for love between Mardar, a motorcycle courier who lives for the adrenaline of his motorcycle and Moudan a young girl in stature but not in her heart or mind. In Suzhou River, directed by Lou Ye, the story does not come to an end, in fact, it continues with a new beginning. Love is complex; without constant renewal it will disappear, thus the need for the Ye's narrator to tell his story over and over to keep the love alive.
Director Lou Ye challenges our beliefs about love as his narrator entwines the characters in a tangled stream of love, loss, obsession, and duplicity. Meimei symbolizes unattainable love; for hundreds of years mermaids have been symbols of unattainable love and have the power to lure men to their sides. The movie has a masculine view about love; women feel that true love is attainable and sustainable, while men are generally more skeptical.
The shaky cinematography symbolizes that being in love puts us on unstable ground. Metaphorically we are drifting down the river of life and it is a shaky ride. This film is a beautiful multi-faceted film about love, but to see it does not necessarily mean to understand it. There are so many ways of understanding love and so many ways of analyzing this film that each person takes away a different interpretation.
Suzhou River is an intelligent film about the complexity of relationships and love. With no happy ending, the audience knows that love is not simple, especially when Meimei runs from her boyfriend and leaves no trace of where she has gone except a note, telling him to find her like Mardar found Moudan, begging for confirmation that their love is as true and powerful as that of the motorcyclist and his lost girl. The unidentifiable narrator tells the story of the search for love and for meaning. The circle of interrelating characters and the chain of events that unfold when each person is affected by the strong love that Mardar has for Moudan. The tale ends with nothing resolved, only death and enlightenment. The intricacies of love can drastically change the outcome of ones life.

The Drunken Illusion: A Love Lost

Andrew Twiggs

The movie (Suzhou River) was an eloquent abstract depiction of a love story. It reminds me of the never ending journey that we all will probably take part of; losing a romantic love. I will analyze the four main characters in this story and give reasons for my beliefs in some characters being real and some of the characters being fictional, merely manifestations of the characters longing to find love.
First I start with the real character. The Narrator ��I�� to me is the most reality based character in the film to us because ��I�� is telling us the story in his own words and through his own eyes. His feelings and longing for courage to go after his love are manifested in the motorcycle courier ��Marda.�� Professor Wang alluded to ��Marda�� meaning motor in the Chinese language thus my theory is that Director Lou Ye attempted to ��drive�� the narrators fantasy through the character ��Marda.��
��I�� comes in contact with the woman who works as a mermaid in a cocktail bar. ��Meimei�� is a sexy and intelligent no nonsense woman with whom ��I�� falls madly in love with. This reality based character is manifested through the fictional character of ��Mudan.�� ��Meimei's�� occupation of being the mermaid with the blonde hair is also a great part of ��Mudan's�� personality. When living the fantasy of being a mermaid she embodies the innocence of a child. Though ��Mudan�� had this relationship with a very mature man (turning into late twenties) she still retained a juvenile state with me.
There are also sections in the story that make it seem as if the only character that really exists is the narrator ��I��. And in my eyes I wouldn't seem that farfetched to believe that the narrator could have possibly have been [sic] a drunken stalker the whole movie in a cocktail bar, seeing this beautiful woman in the aquarium and really wanting her. In a scene where ��Marder�� was getting beaten by the security of the cocktail bar, the narrator made it seem like he had placed that order. However when ��Marder�� was hit and fell upon the car it became a first person point of view of the camera looking at the owner of the cocktail bar. In my eyes the narrator made up the whole story within a drunken stupor longing to be with this woman but merely dreams and drowns himself in alcohol like the characters that drowned themselves in the Suzhou River, submerging and killing the love that he feels could have been.

Opening the Eyes of the Heart

Hernan Amaya

Suzhou River is a highly entertaining movie about the complexities of love. The director Luo Ye tries to show how the desire for unrealistic love ruins relationships and attempts to make us reflect on our idealistic views of love.
The relationship between Marda and Mudan is an incredible love story that only seems to happen in fairy tales. Marda, Mudan's knight in shining armor, serves as her refuge. Every day without him seems unbearable to her. However, Mudan's love is not reciprocated by Marda. One day Marda kidnaps Mudan for ransom money. Feeling betrayed by Marda and her father, Mudan attempts to commit suicide by throwing herself off a bridge, but her body is never found. After Marda goes to jail for a couple of years, he realizes that he truly loved Mudan and upon his release he travels the city looking for her. As the years go by, his story spreads across the city. People see his determination to find Mudan no matter what as the meaning of love, as what people who love should do. This love story motivates Meimei to ask the narrator whether he would chase after her should she run away. Marda eventually finds Mudan working at a convenience store. They go on a joy ride and end up dead. Meimei believes in the story so much that when she sees the dead bodies of Mudan and Marda it serves as affirmation that what Mudan and Marda had was true love.
Because Meimei believes in the fairy tale so much, she runs away, challenging the narrator to prove his love by following her. Being more realistic, narrator decides not to pursue. The director cases this subplot to show that what Mudar and Mudan had was artificial. Trying to recreate it in real life is idealistic and will ruin a relationship like it did between Meimei and the narrator.
Suzhou River also shows us what love is like by embodying it in the narrator. The narrator seems to be a mixture of fantasy and reality. Whenever we see things from his perspective, the camera gets shaky. This shaky perspective shows a more realistic view of loving relationship. Relationships are not always stable, and love is a mixture between fantasy and reality.
The director Luo Ye does a great job of intertwining the story between Marda and Mudan with that between the narrator and Meimei,giving us two aspects of love. The first story displays idealistic love, while the other one portrays sensible love.
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