Don’t go into this barbed cry of pain from Jia Zhang-ke (one of China’s greatest modern filmmakers) expecting subtlety. He’s created plenty of pointed undercurrents in movies such as ‘The World’, ‘Still Life’ and ‘24 City’, but now an implied violence comes explosively to the surface. Drawing on true stories apparently gleaned from the Chinese version of Twitter, his drama follows four residents of the People’s Republic, ranging across a spectrum of communities from north to south, who are each pushed to vengeful breaking point.
The bloodshed (gory shootings, knives wielded with high spirits) may seem gratuitous in the moment, but it accumulates power and incisiveness. The violence ends up acting as a way for the writer-director to diagnose the ills of a country whose economic and social fabric is straining under the effects of rapid modernisation.