Review: Dragonfly Eyes // 蜻蜓之眼 (2017)

Chinese visual artist Xu Bing, best known for his work in a variety of mediums — calligraphy, ink painting and installations — can now add a feature film to his repertoire. Dragonfly Eyes’ biggest selling point is its novel form, as it is an experimental film which wrangles together and whittles down 10,000 hours of live-streamed CCTV and recorded footage to craft a narrative. 

Qing Ting (‘Dragonfly’ in English) is a Chinese girl with big dreams of moving from her rural Buddhist temple to the big, and often unforgiving, city. When she leaves the temple against the wishes of her mentor, she meets a man named Ke Fan and he becomes obsessed with wooing her, following her from job to job as she works in a factory, a restaurant, a laundry shop, and so on. She rejects his romantic advances but accepts his friendship. Their relationship takes a more sinister turn later on.

The narrative only starts developing some time into the film, which works in its favour because it gives the audience a chance to orient themselves to its dramatically different style. The first thing one notices is the extremely limited visuals the camera offers, mostly low-resolution high-angle long-shots, with mostly anonymous faces of people smeared or pixelated. By necessity, the only actors in the film are voice actors. The disjointed scenes are strung together through sound design and common spaces. 

The plot is as straightforward and simple as the videos are messy and indeterminate, with the voiceovers sounding disjointed from what is happening on screen despite Xu Bing’s best efforts to match dialogue with action.

Xu Bing includes some commentary on the obsession with beauty and images, violence in everyday life, and privacy and voyeurism. But the form of the film itself alienates the audience from the characters, as humans onscreen are interchangeable, and it is hard to suspend disbelief when Xu Bing asks the audience to imagine that these are the same characters throughout the movie.

Occasionally, the film has moments of absurdity which are made comical because they are genuine, such as restaurant employees performing a dance before their service starts. The film makes many references to its title, as dragonflies have large multifaceted or “compound” eyes, and the film has several scenes of guards looking at and analysing multiple security screens. 

It is a pity that the film’s plot detracts and distracts from it rather than fully developing its themes and concerns, because the idea of a film made entirely from surveillance videos is so outrageous and intriguing. Xu Bing's take on it has exposed the cons of making a film in this format, but it is clear that there are still limits to be pushed here, perhaps by Xu Bing himself or other filmmakers willing to take on the mantle.

Dragonfly Eyes was an official selection and nominee at the 28th Singapore International Film Festival's Asian Feature Film Competition.

Review by Jacqueline Lee
Previous Post Next Post

Contact Form