“The Fallen Bridge” is a crime drama that spins a web of corruption, vengeance and betrayal. When a bridge collapses, a body and a whistleblowing letter are discovered in the cement wreckage. The body is identified as the father of protagonist Xiaoyu (Ma Sichun), and the investigation begins.
The film’s first act is its strongest. The opening sequence is unforgettable: a series of graphic shots revealing security camera footage of the sinking bridge with a dead body later found in its cement. Director Li Yu masterfully presents this scene as the catalyst upon which every other aspect of the film hinges, drawing on years of experience in documentary filmmaking. Each security camera offers footage from different angles and locations. Individual clips also boast distinct color palettes, with some cameras recording in black and white and others in color. The editing brilliantly cuts from camera to camera, building suspense and drawing audiences further into the film by withholding any kind of dramatic irony. The final shot of this sequence is a low-angle shot, as the audience watches the bridge tumble directly on top of them.
With its muted colors and exploration of uncertainty, “The Fallen Bridge” pays notable homage to crime documentaries and classic crime dramas. The film often uses dramatic contrast lighting — many scenes are lit through bright windows, exposing dark interiors. This differentiation between light and dark visual spaces puts Xiaoyu and companion Meng Chao (Wang Junkai), witness to Xiaoyu’s father’s death, seeking justice outside of the law, as the audience learns about the duo through stylistic silhouettes and voices.
Composed by Dong Yingda, the score is beautiful, eerie strings and light piano translate Xiaoyu’s feelings of distrust and self-reliance into the film’s sonic landscape. Reminiscent of film noir, the rain that pours down throughout “The Fallen Bridge” sets the mysterious scene. This also connects to Xiaoyu’s name, which means little raindrops, and the rain seems to follow her around as her plot for vengeance progresses.
The film’s first act cuts to the chase in terms of introducing characters, revealing evidence and setting up the plot. It is a fast-paced and intriguing mystery, creating a world for which suspension of belief is easy, even if some pieces of evidence present themselves too readily or characters seem too well-prepared in certain situations.
However, after this, the pacing stalls. After its initial scenes, “The Fallen Bridge” follows Xiaoyu as she learns that her father and uncle (Wei Fan) had conflicting morals while working together at the construction company. Upon finding a flaw in the bridge’s construction, Xiaoyu’s father threatened to release the whistleblower letter unless the flaw was fixed. Uncle Zhou and their boss Ju Huaiyi (Li Xiao Chuan) prioritize finances instead — a conflict culminating in a fight between the three men, with Xiaoyu picking up the pieces in the tragic aftermath. Much of this story feels unoriginal, repeating patterns of vengeance, greed and betrayal seen too many times in movies about silencing whistleblowers and corrupt companies. When the film’s final act turns towards sacrifice and violence, it loses sight of the pillars of betrayal and loss that support the emotional core of the successful first act, with a standout scene of Xiaoyu going to see her mother (Liu Lin) about attending her father’s funeral.
The majority of the film’s characters, except for the brief appearance of Xiaoyu’s mother, seem all too familiar. Their emotions are predictable, and their backstories lack the development necessary to carry a film with a seemingly reused plot. Unfortunately, “The Fallen Bridge” collapses under these flaws, with the clever visuals, riveting score and profound performances lost in the wreckage.