The film is ostensibly the tale of a professional video gamer who, during a tournament in China, falls in love with a local, and basically buys her attention for the time he remains in China. It falls somewhere in the uber-modern romance story bracket, but it clearly has aspirations above its station. The first (long) half an hour or so is spent establishing that the life of a gamer on tour isnt necessarily as glamourous or fulfilling as it may seem- there is a definite attempt to make the same sort of statement that Lost in Translation made about boredom and alienation being intensified a thousand fold by an uncompromisingly unfamiliar foreign culture. Sadly, you get the idea director David Verbeek was going for well before the film stops trying to drum the message into you, and the sequence (which in all honesty could have been three hours long, such was my painful disassociation with the concept of time during it) dragged on relentlessly to the point where people fell asleep, others walked out, and there were audible creaks from chairs as critics stirred restlessly.
The second sequence of the film, in which main character Jitze (Stijn Koomen) and object of his obsession Min Min (Huan-Ru Ke) play out an electronic courtship via Second Life. Yes, you heard me right. The audience are forced to watch actual scenes from clunky, visually and technologically outdated life simulator Second Life, as Jitze attempts to tell Min Min how he feels about her, and convince her to presumably go steady with him. The problem with the technique is two-fold: firstly, while the earlier sequences in which we see Jitze competing on a Call of Duty-alike first-person shooter from a POV within the game are fairly entertaining, the experience of watching them wooing one another on Second Life is painfully inaccessible. The only people that watching that would appeal to are Jitze and Min Min themselves. The second problem is the limitation offered by Second Life’s woefully unresponsive graphic engine, meaning that expressions and emotions are completely devoid from supposedly emotive passages are rendered lifeless and inappropriate, with some lingering shots, which I can only hope were meant as a self-parody, aping the camera techniques that would have tracked the characters were they interacting in “real life”.
But then the unemotive element of Second Life would have suited Stijn Koomen perfectly, as he apparently only possesses one facial expression- that of mild apathy, no matter whether he is supposed to be showing explosive anger (stamping on a waste paper bin rather grumpily) or extreme sexual arousal (getting a massage from Min Min). His is a face of epic blank slate proportions, and it becomes entirely impossible to empathise with a character completely devoid of even the slightest emotional capability. Ok, so he is supposed to be bored with his life, and unable to function in the real world, so he escapes into his gaming world (as a hollistic doctor later says “he lives too much in his head”, but there is only so much of one recurrent motif I can take before I am thoroughly turned off.
So, I cant really be accused of misunderstanding the film- I recognised the themes of Jitze’s inability to express himself, even when confronted with a dying motorcyclist inches from his feet, unless he is “online”, and the escapism that offers him sanctuary, or even his eventual progress (very relative) when he accompanies Min Min to her home of Taipei and meets her family, where he is partially liberated and more able to interact and express himself. I also recognised the attempt to create a Lost in Translation-alike for the XBox generation, with a hint of Pretty Woman thrown in for good measure. But I was still thoroughly bored- everything in terms of content was handled badly, and the scrip, as much as was provided by Rogier de Blok, was stunted to say the least.
As if to elucidate my argument, the man sitting immediately to the left of my viewing group fell asleep and loudly snored from about twenty minutes in, then as the lights came on, roused himself enough to boo the film. The other opinions I gathered were as follows:
“That is the worst film I have ever seen”
“It said nothing, but took an hour and a half to say it”
“I dont get it.”
The only good aspects of the film for me were the jobs the Location Scout and Cinematographer did in painting a visually stunning look at China, both in terms of city scapes and wide sprawling countryside. But even then, ironically, the “action” of the film got in the way, and partially spoiled the visual experience.
Unfortunately R U There is exactly as good as sitting watching someone else’s Second Life experience sounds, though it does provide another offering for an expression of love for the Modern Filmic Dictionary, and one that might well be one we here more and more as people disappear into virtual worlds:
“I like your avatar”.