MUBI Movies: MYSTERY (2012)

Lou Ye's story of domestic strife is an emotional tangle that may never be solved.

MUBI is a streaming service catering to cinephiles who believe in quality over quantity. Each day, MUBI adds a new film to its library, where it will stay for 30 days, after which it circulates out and gives room for another new entry. Throughout 2018, we will highlight one MUBI movie per month to help illustrate the catalog’s breadth and importance.

At first glance, the title Mystery seems like an exercise in oblique genre laziness, an expression of the general feel for the story it represents without any effort put into describing anything about that story. And yes, ostensibly, there is a mystery plot that exists in the background of Lou Ye's thriller, but that investigation takes a back seat to a greater mystery within the hearts and minds of the film's protagonists that still lingers even after the credits roll.

The story opens, as do most mystery stories, with a violent death. A young woman is hit by a speeding car, but evidence suggests that she had been beaten immediately prior stumbling into traffic, leading investigators to treat the case as a potential homicide. But instead of following the officers, Mystery cuts to Lu Jie (Hao Le), a wife and mother whose husband, Qiao Yongzhao (Qin Hao), is constantly absent for work. At her daughter's preschool, Lu Jie meets a fellow mother, Sang Qi (Qi Xi), and the two become fast friends. However, Sang Qi shares that she thinks her husband may be cheating on her, and when Sang Qi invites Lu Jie to a café to catch her husband entering a nearby hotel with a mistress, Lu Jie recognizes Sang Qi's husband as Qiao Yongzhao. Furthermore, the young woman with Qiao Yongzhao is recognizable to the audience as the victim of the upcoming car collision.

Now, who killed Qiao Yongzhao's mistress is certainly a mystery that the film is concerned with solving, but that investigation is the B-plot to a more involved tale of interpersonal deceit and heartache between Qiao Yongzhao's dual lives. As the ostensible villain of the piece, Qiao Yongzhao is a fascinating homunculus of guilt and perpetual offense. We never get to see what initially prompted his adulterous behavior, and so we are never allowed to entirely humanize his terrible behavior, but we see the effects it has on his wives in the form of neglect and abuse. There is a tangible distance between him and Lu Jie for the betrayal he served up to her, and the time he spends with Sang Qi is characterized by domination with physical and emotional abuse. And yet even as he continues to cheat on both of his wives with a third woman, his actions are characterized by self-loathing, as if continuing to abuse himself is what prompts him to continually hurt those he's closest to in a continually tighter spiral.

But even more interesting than Qiao Yongzhao are the arcs Lu Jie and Sang Qi travel as they come to terms with the newfound knowledge of their husband's betrayal. Lu Jie doubles down on the distance that defined their marriage, seeking separation and divorce, while Sang Qi becomes an abusive personality in her own right. The representative drama shows how abusive behaviors self-perpetuate, not just within the individual, but within family units, spreading like a cancer that consumes the lives of those affected and eventually reaching outside the family to hurt those only tangentially related.

The mystery of who killed Qiao Yongzhao's mistress is eventually solved to a satisfying certainty, but it would be faulty to consider this revelation the climax of Mystery. The film's third act revolves around the consequences of that action, and the real mystery we're left to ponder is how the damage these characters suffered will determine whether justice is truly served. We never do get the answer, but the fascinating dissection of abusive personalities and the reactions to one's role as a victim place focus on some of the greatest mysteries of the human condition. And you can examine Mystery for yourself right here!