The Basement screened today at the HK Space Museum was a world's first, and simply put, it can be broken down in three acts. It's not easy to follow, and the ending left quite open ended. The techniques used, especially the extensive use of long shots, and the dim lighting made the look of the film a little fuzzy, and very dark, probably to accentuate director Liu Hao's message of uncertainty, and helplessness.
The first act would have made an excellent horror movie, with its darkness, shadow play, and sound effects. The pacing, cinematography would all suggest this. However, this act served as a rather long introduction of our lead characters, a girl named Sheng Hao, and her boyfriend Jia Hao, who has the habit of standing her up. It's a journey along the games people play, in being coy, in being wanting, in being indifferent.
Things still don't pick up in the second act, where they finally meet, and continue their lovers games. Until an intruder is caught, and things start to pick up slightly with a catalyst introduced, but still, it doesn't move along much. The intruder, a voyeur, because of his new found power to blackmail, start to make demands, and while this was an interesting plot development, it suffered again from the lack of pace, and repetition.
In its wrap, it left things convoluted, and leaving you quite unsatisfied. If there's an issue with The Basement, it'll be the pacing which is excruciatingly slow. The revelation was not a surprise, as you would have more or less guessed it given the lack of characters, and locale. Not for the impatient, nor those who prefer crisp stories.
There will be some mild spoilers in the paragraphs below.
Director Liu Hao graced the World Premiere screening with an introduction as well as a Question and Answer session after the screening. Many were curious as to why the intruder didn't free himself completely, and this was clarified that it wasn't the intention of the intruder, as he realized the power he wielded over the couple, and is seeking to fulfil his own desires. Also, there were questions why the couple was obedient, and I thought this was already explained in the movie itself - that the woman worked at the venue, and she would be in trouble if word leaked out what she/the couple had done/were doing.
The slow pacing of the movie was deliberate, and Liu Hao shared that he's been working at the venue where the set was based (actually his own film studio in Beijing), and had a 7 month gap to make a movie in the interim, while developing another feature film. At that location, he noticed the lot of people who were living there, and because of constraints, cannot make a fast paced movie. Similarly, it's a reflection of life and its uncertainties, and it was deliberately planned to be slow moving.
Liu Hao revealed that the movie cost only 7000RMB, of which 2800RMB went to the music, and even then, it was for the rental of the sound studio. Sound effects in the movie were courtesy of the existing ambience. They were real sewage sounds, and therefore no need for additional special effects since they already work. The way the movie was framed was also a mirror of his own late night wandering in his film studio, where there are 12 rooms. When asked if he was emulating any other filmmaker, in particular Ozu, he clarified that it is not his aim to imitate, but rather it's a personal matter. If we were to notice, his past 2 films and this one are all different, different in stories and different in interpretation.
He also went at lengths to explain about self, and how what others see about you may not necessarily be the true you, but rather what you want others to see. The message that he wanted to bring out was the feeling of helplessness, the uncertainty of life and the what-ifs.