Pulpy, grindhouse-style cinema was once hardily dismissed by the critical establishment, and much of the movie-viewing public, as worthless trash. It’s only been over the last few decades, thanks to filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino who borrowed heavily from the style of these supposedly disreputable movies, that they have been reevaluated and appreciated for how artful they could be. This of course inspired a wave of writers and directors to put their own spin on the format, often with impressive results.
Chinese writer / director Yi’nan Diao’s 2019 film The Wild Goose Lake is one such film. We follow Zhou Zenong (Hu Ge), the leader of a small gang of motorbike theives. He meets up with Liu Aiai (Gwei Lun-Mei) at a train station where she informs him that she must take the place of his wife in a scheme to claim the 300,000 yuan reward for his capture. From there, they both explain how they came to be in their respective predicaments in a series of flashbacks, before they head off to claim the money.
Diao’s direction oozes style from the very beginning, with beautifully shot scenes that alternate between bright days, drab nights, and sensuous washes of neon color. Everyone in this version of the Chinese province of Wuhan has a detached, disaffected manner, which was initially a little distracting but ultimately helped set the oppressive and tense mood. The scenes following the women in Zhou’s life can be especially nerve-wracking as the camera follows them while chaos explodes in the background. The action pieces feel mostly grounded, with only a few, brief moments of over-the-top violence. The parallels drawn between the behavior of the gangs and the local police are also interesting to see. There isn’t really anything all that new about the basic elements of the plot, but it’s nevertheless a captivating modern noir as told from a Chinese perspective, and it’s got atmosphere to spare. ★★★★
Not Rated. Contains violence including a sexual assault, strong sexual content, drug use, smoking, and language.
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor