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Diao Yinan’s 2014 film Black Coal, Thin Ice was the stylish neo-noir Chinese drama whose Westernised movie gestures and tropes made it a big crossover hit after winning the Golden Bear in Berlin. Now he has made his debut in the Cannes competition with a movie showcasing similar flourishes of brilliance, violent impacts and setpiece bravura – but also some of the same slightly stolid, opaque style that made me a little agnostic about that 2014 hit.
The Wild Goose Lake (which apparently is the name of a remote fictional town or its train station; the original Chinese title is A Rendezvous at a Station in the South) takes to exactly the same noir-ish shady-lady territory. Zhou Zenong (Hu Ge) is a cop-killer on the run from both the cops and his fellow mobsters.
At this secluded rainy station outside Wuhan, a beautiful young woman asks him for a light: this is Liu Aiai (Gwei Lun-Mei, from Black Coal, Thin Ice), one of China’s “bathing beauty” sex workers who ply their trade near lakes and seafronts. Since the police are monitoring everyone’s mobile calls, she has been tasked by the gangsters to make contact with Zhou and bring him in. Meanwhile both the authorities and the criminal element want to track down his ex-wife (Regina Wan) and child as a way of finding Zhou. The net is slowly closing in; the police have an eye for an eye rather than due process in mind, and maybe it can be fixed so his wife at least gets the reward that’s on his head.
Flashbacks and contemporary action give us some amazing scenes: there’s a superb sequence where a “convention” of criminals are given a tutorial on how steal a motorbike, which degenerates into a violent row about who gets to work which neighbourhoods. The ensuing fight is settled by a competition to see who can steal the most bikes in a single night – “an Olympic Games of thieving” – and this too degenerates into a violent, but thrillingly shot melee in which the police officer is shot by Zhou, thinking him to be just another gun-toting criminal – and the implied equivalence is part of the film’s overall effect.
There is an eerily dreamlike nighttime firefight whose gunshots at one moment light up a tiger’s face. The glowing trainers that they wear make for another haunting image in the darkness. Yet all these individual moments of brilliance are exhibited on what is a rather featureless narrative canvas: I felt that we were not permitted much access to the character’s innermost thoughts, and so some of the film’s romance, and its fatalism, did not have the piercing impact as the visual masterstrokes. But there’s no doubting Diao’s style.
•The Wild Goose Lake screened at the Cannes film festival.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: The Wild Goose Lake review – Diao Yinan’s shady lady noir is no quacker | Film