Review of ‘Nina Wu,’ a psychological exploration
“Is nakedness required for the story or is it added for effect?”
This deliberate rumination begins just a few scenes into Taiwanese director Midi Z’s latest film, “Nina Wu.” It is addressed to the titular Nina (Wu Ke-Xi), a livestreamer and aspiring actress based in Taipei who is reluctant to take on a part that appears to promise success but also includes full-frontal nudity. Her handler, one of the many manipulative male characters we encounter in the film, is currently attempting to assuage her resistance with equally straightforward claims in favor of alleged artistry or authenticity. However, for director Midi, this act of meta-discourse seems to also reinforce the film’s central thesis.
His psychological thriller is rooted in Nina’s history of brutality and gendered subjugation. We witness her sexual harassment and violent mistreatment at the hands of a male director whose warped view of onscreen intensity is that it must be inextricably linked to real-world abuse. We also live within her psyche — what begin as almost surrealistic visual tics grow into profoundly internal realms that completely engulf both us and Nina as her psychological state deteriorates.
Wu, who also serves as co-writer, amazes with her versatility and ability to invoke both the confrontational and the bleak. “They are killing not only my body, but also my soul,” she repeats throughout “Nina Wu,” a line from the film-within-a-film that serves a dual function here as an accusation articulated with such growing urgency that it transforms under the weight of its livedness.
Midi does not replicate the male gaze that Nina is subjected to in abundance; rather, he bears compassionate, vital witness to the violations she is subjected to, as well as the unavoidable deterioration in her mental health that they inevitably initiate. Nina’s anticipated compromises as a woman subject to the demands and abuses of men are internalized here as we watch her mind try to handle the truth of her trauma.
Within this room, truth and delusion coexist, manifesting not as spectacle or doubt, but as an articulated, if not literalized, examination of the ways in which women seek to mentally and emotionally make sense of their exploitation experiences.