Diao Yinan’s twisting and turning nocturnal noir is full of moody attitude and glorious cinematography.
Daylight scenes are as rare as dry weather in this moody Chinese noir where the best moments are stolen by playful sources of light cutting through the darkness of the night: the headlights of bikes and cars, the glow of lightbulbs hanging off dank street stalls, even the neon on the soles of the shoes of a bunch of undercover cops dancing outdoors in formation to Boney M’s ‘Rasputin’. This crime story from Chinese writer-director Diao Yinan (’Black Coal, Thin Ice’) is first and foremost an exercise in style and mood – both a nod to the noir greats and a fair effort to sit alongside them. The story itself, a twisty, hard-to-keep-track-of tale of revenge and double and triples crosses, is not especially remarkable. But that barely matters when there’s such virtuoso image-making on display.
It all unfolds over a short period of time in and around the Wild Goose Lake of the title – a scrappy, dangerous, lawless place where prostitutes (euphemistically tagged ‘bathing beauties’) ply their trade by the water in white sun hats and where every other guy seems to be carrying a knife. Our calm, inscrutable anti-hero Zhou Zenong (Hu Ge) meets a woman in the rain outside a train station. He was expecting to meet his wife, but her associate Liu Aiai (Gwei Lun Mei) has excuses as to why she’s there and Zhou explains how and why he’s on the run, triggering flashbacks which segue into the present. We see in glorious recall how he’s being hunted by the police after shooting dead a cop during a confrontation with other gangsters over a challenge to steal the most motorbikes in town over a two-hour period (‘the Olympic Games of theft,’ quips one crim). Just a regular little dispute then – but one that means that a small army of police and troops now want Zhou dead, and fast.
From there, you could be forgiven for losing track of the ins and outs of this dank, dirty and dazzling manhunt tale. It’s a film of tense atmosphere and endless eye-grabbing moments, not least a night time scene in a zoo (complete with freaky animals and a memorable close-up of a giraffe) and a coup de sang involving an umbrella as a deadly weapon. It also completely owns intriguing location after intriguing location, from noodle shops and back alleys to lakeside beaches and the open road. What it sometimes lacks in clarity it easily makes up for with its stunning, memorable visual games.
Cast and crew