Before We Vanish by Sam C. Mac Film

Battle of Memories | Leste Chen

April 28, 2017

China retrofit its communism with capitalism, so why shouldn’t it augment an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind-indebted premise with the procedural plot points of Minority Report? Well, because of the nationalist limitations of Chinese sci-fi filmmaking, for starters: Movies set in a future China are strictly prohibited from suggesting a time during which the communists’ power might be diminished, and so any kind of dystopia is usually off limits, as would be Philip K. Dick-ian systemic critiques. That makes the satire of Battle of Memories, which presents a world wherein a person can have selected memories scrubbed from their brain, rather innocuous: After an intriguing scene that cites the potential insidiousness of this mind-altering technology (“The original motivation for these surgeries is good,” says a representative for the Master of Memory organization, “But the key lies in the user’s intentions”), the film becomes a much less interesting mystery-thriller of personal sin.

A novelist looking for an emotional release from his draining divorce (Huang Bo), winds up implanted with the memories of a serial killer, and must search his various, newly interiorized crime scenes for clues. Director Leste Chen’s aesthetic actually resembles less Gondry’s whimsy or Spielberg’s showmanship than the psychological intensity of Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island. And that provides enough anchoring for an affecting morality play—until the film’s last act array of plot twists muddles the emotion, and reminds that the title of Chen’s film has an unintended meaning. Battle of Memories feels like a move with too many competing influences, and a self-defeating one because of it.

Previously published as part of New York Asian Film Festival | Dispatch 1.