The Chinese short film Fish Eye (2015) is a suspenseful, elegant-looking thriller that provides a good deal of mystery and tension in its 13-minute running time (before ending credits). Director Tong Zhou creates an atmosphere of paranoia and dread that builds to a gripping climax.
Shasha (Yuti Sun) is a young woman who has moved from the countryside to Beijing. As she heads to the first day of a new assignment as a maid, she is spooked on the bus by talk of a serial killer in the rural area where she is headed. Mr. Wang (Liangbo Wang), the homeowner for whom she will work on this day, seems to her to behave oddly. It doesn’t help matters that she is uncomfortable around his pet cat. He tells her not to disturb him in a certain room if he is working and not to bother him if he doesn’t answer her call. Shasha finds some items, such as a towel with blood on it, that heightens her apprehension.
After leaving the house, she discovers that she left an item behind and enters the house, without Wang’s knowledge, to retrieve it. It is here that Tong Zhou ratchets up the suspense, and she does a fine job of it, working from a screenplay by Jackie Jiahao Hou and Tong Zhou from a story by Hou.
The two leads in Fish Eye impress with skillful performances. Yuti Sun plays Sasha with an absorbing combination of naivete and vulnerability, infusing her character with an emotional distance from and suspicion of others. Liangbo Wang portrays Mr. Wang adeptly, bordering his character on a fine line from which it seems he could teeter into either mere eccentricity or dangerous madness.
A unique aspect of Fish Eye is that it is bookended by the musings of a philosophical fish. This aspect is played straight, as is the entire short. Some very dark humor is occasionally at play but levity is not what Tong Zhou aims for. She constructs a classic-feeling tale in which the anxiety on the part of protagonist Shasha builds to a fever pitch. The film looks marvelous, too, thanks to Dezhong Feng’s production design – the doctor’s home looks splendid – and the top-notch cinematography of Ray Changxin Chen. Editor Ziyun Chen builds the pacing toward a taut, nail-biting crest. Wenying Wang’s score, rich with piano and strings, compliments the action stunningly.
If you are a fan of Hitchcockian thrillers that keep you guessing and then deliver a heady blow, keep an eye out for Fish Eye, currently on the festival circuit. Tong Zhou proves herself to be a director with a solid present and a bright future.
Fish Eye: (4.5 / 5)
Fish Eye screens at Scream Queen FilmFest Tokyo (SQFFT), October 22-28.