Monday, April 06, 2015

in passing: some recent films from china

Caught in the Web, Chen Kaige, 2012

What announces itself as an expose of modern day internet culture and its moral pitfalls quickly develops into a nervous screwball comedy about the correlations between money and love. In his overuse of coincidences, but also in some of his visual strategies (fragmentation everythere), Kaige seems to move in a similar direction as Johnnie To's Don't Go Breaking My Heart-films, but the comparison doesn't fare him well. The film works much better in its last part, when it suddenly and rather unexpectedly turns into a classic women's picture, epitomised by the beautiful close up (via the rear view mirror of her car) of one of the female protagonists while she's driving away angrily and teared-up, leaving the only occasionally interesting mess that is Caught in the Web behind.

Silent Witness, Fei Xing, 2013

While Caught in the Web's a mess, it at least is an auteurist one. And I can't help to prefer an auteurist mess to a somewhat more competently made, but completely impersonal botpoiler like Silent Witness. A courtroom drama that mixes a Rashomon style narrative structure with broad melodrama and even weirder shots at the good and evil qualities (or rather: the storytelling possibilities) of modern day consumer electronics, Silent Witness is unable of any tonal shifts, thereby completely obliterating its own concept: if everyone involved is equally high strung and every retelling of the murder case has the same feeling of phony urgency, I don't really care who the real killer is. Sun Honglei delivers some nice bad guy mugging, though.

Special ID, Clarence Fok, 2013

Oldschool Hongkong termite weirdo auteur Clarence Fok clearly still knows how to keep action scenes interesting (oldschool action choreographer John Salvitti had probably also something to do with this). Donnie Yen is terrific crawling on the floor in the first fight, thereby slowing down the action almost to a standstill and still exuding deadly violence with every fiber of his body, the car scenes in the end are also vastly superior to everything in Furious 7. But almost all scenes in between fall flat, even the fluffy stuff on top of a skyscraper, when Donnie chills with a clean cut mainland police woman, surrounded by plushy neon lights. It's a shame: Yen might just be the single best action film star on the planet right now, if only he'd work with better directors once in a while. Here he has chosen an interesting one, but one who's ill fitted with a straight faced star vehicle like this.

Breakup Buddies, Ning Hao, 2014

One of the biggest successes of recent years is a rather whiny macho soul searching road movie comedy, Breakup Buddies is admitteldly rather competemtly made by the director of Mongolian Ping Pong, who clearly manages to regain some of his more tender arthaus touches - for example: people are aware of their own shadows - in a mainstream project complete with sexually active girls clad in Avatar costumes; but who never for a minute lets his romcom routines stear away from the path of least resistance, be it slowly domesticating the philandering bullshit buddy or taking cheap shots at selfish stoners. On the other hand: a film, in which a character compares his philosophical outlook on life with an ipad must be on to something.

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