Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Sep 30, 2019 5:07 am 
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Noise, color, romance and doom

With this new film, which was in Competition at Cannes, Diao Yinan establishes himself as some kind of Asian B-noir master, I suppose, yet while he touches all the bases, something feels missing, or he is just trying too hard. Nonetheless there are pleasures in The Wild Goose Lake (whose Chinese title means something different, South Station Gathering), pleasures of the senses above all, sight and sound.

In her Variety review Jessica Kiang rightfully credits Dong Jinseng, the cinematographer, with visual beauties that are almost but not quite as gloriously artificial as Wong Kar-wai's films and Chris Doyle's work. She notes the "whole sequences in neon pinks and garish reflected blues." And the sound design and score are just as essential, making the images "throb with particular sleaze" behind "B6’s clanging, dramatic score." This score isn't crudely obtrusive, like a modern American comic book thriller, but selective - though there are clangs and bangs like a John Cage symphony that filled the Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln center cranked up to the max, all the more to be appreciated from my front balcony seat. Sound design and set design are also top notch.

What the movie's all about logically comes second, though unlike Diao's Berlin prize-winning previous film Black Coal Thin Ice, there is a well-worked-out and clear plot line. There's a - noisy, vivid - fracas at a gathering to train a gang of motorcycle thieves and assign them districts to work in. It's infiltrated by cops and one gets shot. This basis provides plenty of action and noise. The shooter becomes a police fugitive. His flight bookends the whole, and a soulful prostitute who comes to get, or rescue him. He plans to turn himself in so his wife can get the reward - though I never quite saw how that could work. The meeting of the wanted Zhou Zenong (Hu Ge) with Liu Aiai (Gwei Lun Mei, the Black Coal, Thin Ice star as well) in heavy rain, just one cluster of intense but renewed noir clichés, sets the tone of romantic doomed B-gangster movie artiness Diao strives for, and mostly achieves.

Some devices, or genre routines, are so enthusiastically worked as to be almost silly, perhaps intentionally so. The largely young and Chinese Alice Tully Hall audience laughed a lot, but not too much; they were having a good time, not scoffing. How often does somebody ask for a light so we can her the clack and click of the classic Zippo lighter? A unique running joke is the colorful T-shirts worn by the (often doomed) young men, which are pointed to when an undercover cop is called out and told to switch his designer T for something drabber. See Kiang's review for a listing of all the other wonderful things that go on, including Zhou Zenong's twisty dance to bandage his wounded torso without help.

But this points to an artificiality and lack of what classic noirs have, emotion. It's impressive how Diao renders both intimate and (tackily) epic-scale sequences with equal panache, but the stars aren't quite charismatic (or even good looking) enough. This relationship can't match the doomed romance of Jia Zhang-ke's superb Ash Is Purest White, nor can Gwei Lun Mei quite match Jia Zhang'ke's wife and muse Zhao Tao in that and other films. Diao's well-developed plot leaves no room to breathe, to pause and savor the doom. Still, there is a lot for us to savor, and one walks out with pleasingly intense visions of glowing neon and clanging noises in one's head.

The Wild Goose Lake 南方车站的聚会, 113 mins., debuted at Cannes in Competition, with seven other top festivals (some to come) listed on IMDb. Reviewed here as part of the Main Slate of the New York Film Festival (Sept. 29, 2019). Theatrical debut to be in France Nov. 27. Current Metascore 74%.

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