Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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JIGME TRINLEY: ONE AND FOUR 一个和四个 (China [Tibet] 2021) - NEW YORK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL jULY 15-31, 2022


A well-placed young director from Tibet makes a highly entertaining debut

Reviewing One and Four in in Hollywood Reporter, Elizabeth Kerr notes that this double-cross mystery has "shades of Cui Siwei’s snowbound Savage, Lu Chuan’s Kekexili and, of course, Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight coloring the proceedings." She's right that though it may not reinvent the wheel, it is "a respectable debut from an industry with few voices - Tibetan cinema, where Trinley's father, Pema Tseden, is the most prominent director." One thinks of Panah Panahi, son of Jafar Panahi, whose recent Hit the Road is a stunningly original and very fun debut. This isn't quite on that level, but it's the work of a worthy offspring, compelling, engrossing, highly atmospheric, and in its way also thoroughly entertaining. Variety has a review headlining this as "a Sly, Sparse Tibetan Snow Western."

"Snow western" is a good identifying label. There is non-stop danger and suspicion and things get very tense toward the end with bad guys being singled out for elimination. Reference toThe Hateful Eight suggests the kind of setting: a big, rough-hewn far north outpost that seems as cold inside as out, though you wouldn't want to linger outside where it's freezing and - of course - a blizzard is on the way. Sense of place is communicated through several trips along snow roads and icy heights, also through an ingenious sound design-cum-score combining outdoors with mechanical noise, and cinematography that is both intimate and austere. The exteriors, following forest police following poachers in a wild snowy ride that ends in two vehicles overturned, one man dead, and everybody scarred and bloody, and going back out to hunt for a poacher's trophy of fox fur and antlers.

The car race is replayed for us as recounted by the remaining cop - if he is that, and not an imposter - to the ranger in the cabin, Sanggye (Jinpa), the central figure and our point of identification - and confusion. He's hungover, starving, and goofy, sad and soulful. As the tale unfolds, three men come to the cabin to visit Sanggye, one after another. They all seem to be lying, and one of them seems likely to be the poacher everybody's talking about - that the cop says disappeared after the crash.

Kunbo (Kunde) is the thin, sleazy dude in the big leather robe who came first with the signed divorce paper from Sanggye's wife, qualifying as a messenger who ought to be killed. We don't see this: it happened early in the morning and Sanggye thinks it was a dream; but he comes back later. Before that man identifying himself as a Regional Forestry Police officer (Wang Zheng) comes with reports of the chase after the poacher in a car, where both overturned and the cop's partner died. He is dead; Sanggye sees him. But is the other guy really the cop or the poacher? And is Kunbo the poacher or the poacher's assistant? Sanggye writes everything in his forest ranger’s logbook and we see many an entry; but how much is that to be trusted, or him?

Then another man (Darggye Tenzin) comes saying he's a cop. Well, Trinley keeps things pretty lively. All these grizzled dudes are birds of a feather, and apparently starving. See Sanggye and the first "cop" devouring, piece-by-piece, a rabbit they catch and cook, one of the great starvation meals in movies like the one in De Sica's Miracle in Milan. No, this doesn't provoke thought like Panah Panahi's Hit the Road. But what it does is take you somewhere rough and austere. I'd really like to see how they did those car wrecks in that location. An actioner that never stops being a puzzler, this is a trim and gnarly piece of work.

One and FourI 一个和四个 (‘Yige he sige’), 88 mins., debuted at Tokyo Nov. 2, 2021. Screened for this review as part of the Jul. 15-31, 2022 New York Asian Film Festival at Lincoln Center. North American Premiere.

Saturday Jul 16, 8:00pm (Walter Reade Theater, Film at Lincoln Center)

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