Searching for Beauty in the Dark

Claire Lee of the Talent Press 2014 reviews the chinese drama drama BLIND MASSAGE, which features in the Berlinale Competition.


After learning that he’s been told a lie since a childhood incident left him blind, a young Chinese man, Xiao Ma (Huang Xuan) slits his throat. Blood spurts out like a shotgun blast as he falls to the ground with an eerie, blank face. For Ma, it’s the truth, not lies, that destroys his willingness to live. Chinese filmmaker Lou Ye’s drama BLIND MASSAGE, featured in the Berlinale Competition, is a poetic study of human desire and a search for what is beautiful – and, more importantly, true.

After his attempted suicide, Ma accepts his situation and moves on with his life. Despite a visible scar on his neck, a symbol of the painful truth, he begins to work at a massage parlour in Nanjing, where all of his co-workers are also visually impaired. He soon finds himself being sexually attracted to his co-worker Kong (Zhang Lei), who is many years his senior and in a relationship with their mutual colleague, Wang (Guo Xiaodong). We also meet Fuming (Qin Hao), another of Ma’s co-workers. He falls for Du Hong (Mei Ting), who the sighted customers call “the most beautiful” among all the female workers at the parlour. Having never seen Du Hong’s face, he wants her only after learning that she is perceived as “attractive” by those who can see. Du Hong rejects him, saying what he calls love isn’t love, and that it is, in fact, obsession and vanity. “No woman is blind to true love,” Du Hong tells Fuming. “Especially the ones without their eyes.”

And Ma, feeling confused and even guilty about his lust for Kong, visits a brothel. There, he meets Mann (Huang Lu), a young prostitute with whom he eventually falls in love. It starts off with just sex – he even calls Kong’s name out loud while having intercourse with Mann – but he eventually comes to ‘hear’ Mann, both literally and metaphorically. When Mann’s co-workers lie to him, telling him that she’s not at the shop when she is in fact with an abusive customer, Ma recognizes her voice at a distance and finds her. While their feelings for each other are evident, the two rarely exchange words. All stories, after all, are lies, the film’s narrator says.

Many scenes of the film are depicted with an almost dreamlike intensity, with very dim lights and blurry images. It’s as if we are in the dark, or in a world of uncertainty and danger, in search of something that matters, something rare. BLIND MASSAGE is a compelling tale of growing up, of someone who learns an essential lesson the hard way: that accepting truth often requires courage – and so does finding beauty in life.