|Starring||Eddie Peng, Sylvia Chang, Wang Yanhui, Zhang Yu|
If Hong Kong and Taiwanese filmmakers have taught the Mainland Chinese anything, it’s that style, visual flare and appropriate use of sound can mask a film’s shortcomings and turn an average story into something that can hold an audience’s interest.
Joining this new wave of Chinese neo-noir cinema titles that includes films such as Wild Goose Lake and The Eleventh Chapter, first time director Wen Shipei has created one of the more interesting Chinese movies of 2021.
What’s this movie about?
After being distracted by a message on his pager while driving down a dimly lit quiet road, Xueming hits a wondering man. Panicking, he dumps the body in some tall grass and flees the scene.
While seeking shelter from a summer storm, he crosses paths with Mrs Liang, a woman looking for her missing husband. Observing the image of the man in her missing persons poster, he realises it’s the same person he hit with his car.
He then attempts to confess to the crime to both Mrs Liang and the police, but a strange truth about the victim is revealed: his body was found with three bullet holes, and there is a mysterious man who is hunting after Xueming.
Why You Should Watch
As mentioned in the introduction, this movie does have the hallmarks of a neo-wave of noir cinema from China, although its obvious this wave is still very much in its infancy.
The most striking element of this film is the colour grading and tone. Set during the hot summer of Southern China’s Guangdong province in 1997, the movie has taken advantage of the time frame to build its world. No mobile phones, no abundance of air conditioning. Information is slow to get around, relying on old-fashioned foot work instead, and the heat of the season is evident on the faces and demeanour of our characters. Tempers fray, people are suspicious. This part is well done.
Audio plays an important part in building this as well. Cicadas buzz constantly to flag the impeding heat of the next day, while the theme song, a cover of “Are You Lonesome Tonight” perfectly encapsulates the feeling of our two main characters.
Xueming, played by Taiwanese-Canadian actor Eddie Peng, is a man wracked with guilt but unable to find the courage to confess to his crime. He tries several times, but ultimately each time is foiled by an external party, whether that be a police officer distracted by a phone call, or an impromptu wake at the house of Mrs Liang, the wife of his supposed victim. Xueming has a girlfriend, but her role in his life is so minor, he may as well be a single man.
However, Mrs Liang is not your typical grieving widow. Numbed to the pain of loss after the death of her son, she doesn’t seem too surprised that her husband has met a grizzly demise, mentioning several times she is unable to cry.
The friendship that develops between these two characters is thus born out of loneliness and guilt. These emotions apply to both of them, and a fantastic performance from Taiwanese veteran Sylvia Chang sells her part to the audience.
While first time director Wen Shipei doesn’t initially seem overwhelmed with the task he was set to deliver, there is a feeling that this movie is missing something. Something that could have shifted this film into the must watch category.
The 90-minute run time seems to betray its style. At times its feels like there are huge chunks of the movie missing, such as explaining a bit more about the husband’s backstory and information about who the man hunting Xueming is. Additionally, the role of the police officer is rather minor, with very little substance and backstory given to him either.
This was either a longer movie that had been cut down to fit a 90 minute run time, thus losing some of the periphery detail but keeping the tone and mood around Xueming and Mrs Liang, or these scenes were never written in the first place. Either way, it’s the biggest downfall of this film.
There’s a lot of style, and perfect for the cinephile who enjoys noir mystery thrillers, but there is a noticeable lack of substance.
That said, the 90-minute run time ensures the pace of the film is brisk, with only a handful of moments where the audience has the opportunity to dwell on details.
In keeping with the genre, the shuffling of the timeline in the film also ensures the audience is kept alert, although this style does have its detractors.
So while its not a film for everyone, there is a solid audience for this, and deserves its place in this neo-wave of Chinese noir thrillers that hopefully matures with ferocity as time progresses.
I give this film a thumbs up.