In my humble opinion, Diao Yinan‘s The Wild Goose Lake (Film Movement, 3.6 NYC, 3.13 L.A.) is one of the most visually inventive, brilliantly choreographed noir thrillers I’ve ever seen. One of them surely. I’ve only seen this audaciously novel and nervy film once (nine months ago in Cannes) but I’m looking forward to a second viewing this weekend.
I realize that I’m not “allowed” to have an opinion like this because I’m a Chinese cinema dilletante, but I love what I love so stuff it.
From last May’s (5.18) review: “I probably haven’t felt this knocked out, this on-the-floor, this ‘holy shit’-ified by sheer directorial audacity and musicality since Alfonso Cuaron‘s Children of Men.
“I wasn’t even following the convoluted story all that closely and I didn’t care all that much — The Wild Goose Lake is so deliciously composed, such an audacious high-wire act that you can just watch it for the imaginative visual poetry and off-center creative strategies alone.”
Moody, damp and noirish, it’s basically a tough-loner-on-the-run thriller. Zhou Zenong (Hu Ge) is a gangster wounded after a slug-out and shoot-out with several like-minded baddies, which results in a wounding as well as the death of a local cop. He gradually hooks up with a prostitute, Liu Aiai (Gwei Lun Mei) who works for Zhou’s boss, Hua Hua (Qi Dao), and whose base loyalties are in question.
The atmosphere is gloomily nourishing at every turn — pitch-black alleys, shadowed tunnels, down-at-the-heels apartment buildings, more shadows, rain-soaked streets, budget restaurants, grimy awnings, fire escapes, etc.
There’s simply no question that Diao, 50, is a flat-out cooking genius — a master of atypical framing and selective cutting, ultra-inventive action choreography, imaginative use of shadows and silhouettes and a guy who knows how to end a sex scene with real style. He’s a major arthouse director working within the confines the action genre, and at the same time breaking out of the bonds of that genre and almost setting it free.
Goose Lake was shot in Wuhan, the epicenter of the Chinese corona virus epidemic. It’s also performed in Wuhan dialect instead of standard Mandarin Chinese, which means that Chinese audiences have had to read subtitles along with other outside cultures.
Ever since Asian crime thrillers became a big deal in the early ’90s, fans have been saying to skeptics “don’t worry about the silly plots and the cliched, half-assed characters…just concentrate on the wonderful action-flick chops and choreography…just surrender to that.”
I always waved off that jive. A movie has to have compelling characters, a believable milieu and a strong emotional undercurrent. But now, for the first time, I understand that fervor, that fuck-it rationale.
Perhaps The Wild Goose Lake isn’t all that great with the internals — everyone who’s seen Black Coal, Thin Ice says it’s a better film, and maybe they’re right, but I’m a Diao Yinan novice and I was effing blown away. So cut me a little slack because I’m new to this guy.