Director: Jiang Wen
Cast: Chow Yun Fatt, Ge You, Jiang Wen, Carina Lau, Hu Jun, Chen Kun, Feng Xiaogang, Miao Pu, Zhou Yun
RunTime: 2 hrs 12 mins
Released By: GV & Scorpio East Pictures
Rating: NC-16 (Some Violence & Sexual Scenes)
Opening Day: 31 March 2011
Synopsis: Set in China during the warring 1920s, notorious bandit chief Zhang descends upon a remote provincial town posing as its new mayor, an identity that he had hijacked from Old Tang, himself a small-time imposter.
We really can’t ask for anything more, can we?
Jiang Wen and Ge You, two of China’s greatest actors, have come together to star in this action comedy co produced by China and Hong Kong. Jiang, whose filmography includes Jasmine Women (2004) and Warriors of Heaven and Earth (2003) is a director himself, more identified with the “sixth generation” that emerged in the 1990s. His last film, The Sun Also Rises (2007), made us sit up and marvel at his refreshing filmmaking skills. Ge, recipient of the Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival for his moving rendition of a father in Zhang Yimou’s To Live (1994), is an acclaimed artiste whose body of work includes A World Without Thieves (2004) and If You Are The One (2008).
So you can expect, pardon the pun here, more than flying bullets when these two highly regarded actors appear in the same production.
Next, we go on to gawk over the third leading man in this movie – Chow Yun Fatt. The highly versatile actor has impressed us with his wide range of roles including the raging emperor in Curse of the Golden Flower (2006), the pirate lord in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007) to, err, the master of Zen in Dragonball Evolution (2009).
We have spent a substantially large portion of the review on the three protagonists’ past works – what exactly are we avoiding here?
Well, first things first, we really do not want to spoil the fun by revealing too much of the plot. All we can say is that it involves a bandit chief who visits a provincial town, posing as its new mayor. The ingenious twists and turns in plot development is almost indescribable in words – viewers should expect nothing less than a smartly written script penned by Jiang and his team of writers, based on Ma Shitu’s novel “Ten Nighttime Stories”.
Second, film lovers will instantly identify Jiang as a capable filmmaker who knows his stuff inside out. The distinctively wacky approach to telling this dramatic tale brings to mind other ingenious directors like Quentin Tarantino and Sergio Leone. Couple that with very intelligent dialogue exchanges that bring out the best in Chinese culture. The many quotable quotes feature choice of words, idioms and expressions that will have the thinking viewer smiling from ear to ear. Be it Zhao Fei’s spectacular cinematography, William Chang’s lush costume design or Jiang Wei’s intricate artistic design, it is evident that Jiang is one sure handed and confident director who is capable of bringing out the best of cinema.
Of course, we wouldn’t miss out on the captivating performances of the cast here – it is the reason why we had our eyes glued to the screen from beginning to end. The film features many supporting characters played by both familiar (Carina Lau, Chen Kun, Feng Xiaogang, Hu Jun) and unfamiliar (Liao Fan, Miao Pu, Ma Ke, Wei Xiao amongst many others) faces, but you find yourself identifying each and every of their well developed personalities.
And we haven’t even mentioned the sly political references Jiang has inserted into his commercial movie (just check out the number of computer generated effects and the large crowd scenes to get an idea of how much resources were pumped into this project) – clever viewers just need to pay extra attention to how the scenarios play out to get an idea of the commentary Jiang is making on Mainland China.
When the end credits roll for this 132 minute movie, you’d be overwhelmingly impressed with the entertainingly smart piece of work which you’ve just seen.
(A clever and well produced Chinese film which will fascinate and enthrall)
Review by John Li