Striking an awkward balance between cornball message-making melodrama and kooky mistaken-circumstance comedy, Caught in the Web finds director Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine, The Emperor and the Assassin) vainly stumbling about in search of a tone or point.
In this increasingly muddled tale, secretary Ye (Gao Yuanyuan) learns that she has fatal (albeit asymptomatic) cancer, which leads her to grumpily refuse to vacate a city bus seat for an elderly passenger. This incident is caught on cell phone camera by a fledgling reporter (Wang Luodan), thereby turning Ye into a viral video villain and sparking all sorts of complications involving her corporate-bigwig boss Shen (Wang Xueqi), his wife (Chen Hong), a TV news producer (Yao Chen), and a jaded reporter (Mark Chao) with whom Ye falls in love.
That romance is as laughably contrived as the film’s interest in plumbing its chosen themes — of media ethics, gender warfare, and the irresponsibility fostered by our TMZ and Internet culture — is disingenuous.
Amid much overacting, Kaige addresses the subjectivity and unreliability of images through this-isn’t-what-it-looks-like scenarios that would make Jack Tripper groan.
Even those lame bits, however, aren’t as insufferable as a waterworks-courting finale that irrevocably transforms the story into so much soap opera mush.