Directed by Lou Ye, starring Zhou Xun, Jia Hongsheng, Yao Anlian and Nai An.

Writer-director Lou Ye describes the Suzhou River in Shanghai as the artery that supplies the city's heart. Guarding 'a century's worth of stories and rubbish' it plays a vital role in the unfolding of a plot as meandering and mysterious as the river itself. Narrated by a character that we never see, the film tells a story of the river, introducing us first to Meimei (Zhou Xun), who performs as a mermaid in a nightclub act and is also the narrator's girlfriend.

Then we meet Mardar (Jia Hongsheng), a bicycle courier who has served a prison sentence for kidnapping his former girlfriend, Moudan (also played by Zhou Xun). Devastated by Mardar's betrayal, Moudan threw herself into the Suzhou where she is said to live on as a mermaid. On his release, Mardar dedicates himself to finding Moudan. His obsession leads him to Meimei. Mysterious, prone to moments of inexplicable sadness, and uncannily similar to the girl that Mardar is searching for, Meimei clearly has a secret. Is she Moudan? Or is she consciously imitating Moudan to win Mardar's love?

Visually contrasting with the picturesque China of Ang Lee's forthcoming Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Suzhou River depicts a dilapidated metropolis - but one which has kept its romance in the face of gritty modernity. Combining elements of mystery, melodrama and noir, Lou Ye relates the perfect love story, his stark, realistic filming contrasting with the plot's intimate, dreamlike narration. Captivatingly beautiful, Suzhou River is a contemporary urban fairytale, sweeping the audience away on its current.

Nickie Byrne

** Winner of the Grand Prix, Rotterdam Film Festival 2000 **