Guidance

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Guidance
"There are a host of questions here, none of them exactly new, but reframed in the context of an age where expectations around privacy are rapidly shifting." | Photo: Good Deed Entertainment

In the near future, society is reeling from the impact of a devastating war, and ambitious software engineer Su Jie (Francesco Chen) believes that he has found a means of solving everything, an approach which will remove all possibility of it happening again. Believing that violence is a consequence of deception, he has created in ingestible computer system called Guidance which connects with the brain and provides moral advice, as well as warning it whenever somebody lies. He’s almost ready to roll it out to the world at large. He just needs to run a few more tests.

Probably conceived as pure science fiction, this Chinese drama has, by dint of circumstance, come to feel a little more like social satire. Those viewing it from that perspective will be unsurprised to learn that the software has been poorly thought through, designed with an absolutist approach which, for example, makes it impossible for it to overlook a lie even if a life is at stake. Fortunately, the story doesn’t hinge on our buying into the corporate promise. What we get instead is two fold: a romantic drama about a couple trying to save their relationship, and a low key thriller built around secrets and workplace exploitation.

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The couple are Han Miao (Sun Jia) and Mai Zi Xuan (Harry Song). They’ve been looking forward to getting away from work and spending some time together in the countryside. Han Miao was recently caught up in a distressing incident when the offices of the company which makes Guidance were bombed, and they’re both feeling shaken in the aftermath. Mai Zi Xuan has an additional concern, however. He knows that she spent several hours after the incident trapped in a panic room with Su Jie, and he can’t shake the feeling that something happened between the two of them, especially as Su Jie has gifted her an expensive painting. Given that he has a big secret he’s keeping from her – one which he fears would prompt her to leave him – it’s a precarious situation, and perhaps not the wisest time for them to decide to ingest guidance together – but doing so seems as if it might be the only way to save their relationship.

As Han Miao and Mai Zi Zuan dance around each other, asking direct questions and trying to avoid giving direct answers, Han Miao is also struggling with matters related to Su Jie, their work together and her complicated feelings about him. Nothing here is quite what it appears to be, although viewers may see some of the twists coming a long way ahead. Director Neysan Sobhani grew up in a series of conflict zones and clearly relates to the naïve desire at the heart of the Guidance project, though he’s smart enough to see its flaws, but he can also see it in a larger perspective. The final revelation invites us to re-evaluate everything that has gone before, and also calls into question the traditional structure of films about secrets between lovers. Can deception sometimes be a loving act? Do intimate relationships – and, perhaps, success in the corporate world – require accepting a burden of guilt? Can confession be a means of making oneself feel better whilst dumping problems onto an innocent party? There are a host of questions here, none of them exactly new, but reframed in the context of an age where expectations around privacy are rapidly shifting.

Aside from the frantic energy of the bombing scene and a catch-up scene near the end, the pace is glacially slow. This allows plenty of time to admire Saba Mazloum’s crisp cinematography and Sobhani’s elegant use of space, but the film could still do with some tightening up. There’s a tendency to linger when we’ve already grasped what’s happening emotionally, to repeat when the point is already clear, and it doesn’t have enough philosophical weight to get away with this. The two leads are good, however, and when the script allows it, they deliver something which feels like truth.

Reviewed on: 15 Jun 2022
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A holidaying couple face a relationship crisis after agreeing to ingest a new computer system which gives them moral advice and tells them when they hear a lie.

Director: Nysan Sobhani

Writer: Anders R Fransson, Neysan Sobhani, Wang Pei You

Starring: Jia Sun, Harry Song, Francesco Chen

Year: 2021

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: China

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