Inseparable (2011)

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Kevin Spacey played the supervillainous Lex Luthor back in 2006’s Superman Returns, so it was not an altogether atypical thing for him to don a cape and cowl and play a (possibly imaginary) costumed superhero in Inseparable. This Chinese but mostly English-language movie is about the young Chinese man, Li (Hong Kong talent Daniel Wu, who most recently co-starred in Europa Report), who went through a personal disaster a few months back. His goldfish died, and he can’t bring himself to flush it down the drain. That, of course, is only a symbol of the actual disaster, the nature of which you can probably guess. So, as a consequence he is beginning to suffer a mild psychosis that involves various hallucinations. At the same time he is in a spot of serious trouble at his job, where his immediate superior, Ms. Yang, is attempting to convince him to cover up a serious glitch in a new microchip that is set to be put into production.

The movie opens with Li trying to hang himself in his apartment. Inconveniently, Kevin Spacey knocks on the door just then, claiming to be Li’s new neighbour. He says his name is Chuck. He speaks a bit of Chinese, but Li is fluent in English, so they spend the rest of his psychosis in that language. Chuck helps Li come to terms with the personal and work-related problems in his life, which also involve two different versions of Li’s wife; one (most likely) real and one (certainly) imaginary.

One of the ways they solve Li’s issues is to dress up as superheroes and go crime-fighting. Achieving justice for the poor and oppressed is just the right antidote for Li’s problems of self-loathing and workplace abuse. It’s done in a somewhat ridiculous, realistic and understated manner which is a far cry from today’s gaudy, big-screen, action-driven superhero romps, but ultimately the emotional elements of the narrative ring true and end up being very touching. At one point towards the end it seems as if they’re going to pull a Shutter Island, making everything part of Li’s delusion, and as a viewer the sense of losing touch with reality is actually conveyed rather successfully.

The movie does quite a beautiful job describing and aligning the two themes of the personal and the work-related issues, and letting them reflect each other in a way so that, dialectically, they complement each other so well that they ultimately seem to be the same problem, with the same solution. Li’s moral attitude to the workplace quandary also becomes the key to dealing with his personal trauma, intertwining the two plot-lines examplarily, leaving Li with karma to spare.

The movies that Inseparable most reminds of are titles like Franklyn (2008) and Defendor (2009); Inseparable is not quite as good as the former, but better, in my opinion, than the latter. This is a slightly slow-moving, but well-acted and satisfying movie – and one which I expect I will want to see again sometime.

The DVD reviewed here is a screener disc with no extras except a trailer. The movie was released on DVD in the UK on August 19.

Director: Dayyan Eng
Cast: Kevin Spacey, Daniel Wu, Beibi Gong, Ni Yan, Peter Stormare, Kenneth Tsang and others.
Runtime: 93 min.
Country: China

Film Rating: ★★★½☆
DVD Rating: ★★★☆☆

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