A Webcam Model
“Nina Wu” is a story of power, control, and the male gaze that looks at Nina, a webcam model, who is forced to compromise her morals and sell her body on screen to land her first big film role. The male gaze has long dominated cinema and here it is clear throughout, with sequences of a silent Nina being frozen again and again in the grip of a man’s camera lens.
Her director is a profile of every “difficult” male genius in the canon, making Nina do whatever brings him results he wants. We understand here that cinema has historically been a way for men to enact their desires – both on and off screen.
Wu brings depth to her character even with her frequent silence and submission to the men around her. She fights every indignity she faces quietly and realistically. The most depressing thing is she is not mistreated out of malice but simply because the men around her can get away with doing so.
Nina (Ke-Xi Wu) is a country girl who leaves the small-town theatre for the big city lights of Taipei. Struggling for years to secure a role beyond an extra in a short film or commercial, we meet here in her urban apartment as she makes dumpling mix and prepares her routine streaming broadcast, where desperation pays off in the form of love credits.
When her agent contacts her out of the blue for a meaty role, she accept the fact the film is a cheesy period spy romance with a full-frontal nudity scene.
Before she accepts the role, we see Nina as selfish and shallow and it is hard to feel for her. There is a lot of promise here but I had the feeling that it was by and large unfulfilled.
Nina achieves her long term goal but at a very high price. Her abusive director who engages in physically abusive techniques to get a performance from Nina and at one point she is almost killed when oil barrels on a barge explode, throwing her into the sea. But Nina gets through it and becomes a star. It’s then that she finds herself haunted and taunted by a mysterious young woman (Kimi Hsia) who appears in her dreams and possibly even in her reality. Returning to her hometown, Nina is unable to escape this figure who seems to represent some sort of shame or guilt.
Basically this is a rape-revenge thriller that never offers its heroine a shot of revenge. We get the sense the that Nina is losing her identity as fiction, reality and dreams come together. By the end I wanted to re-watch the film to see if I missed clues throughout.