The Wild Goose Lake (Nan Fang Che Zhan De Ju Hui)
The modus operandi in The Wild Goose Lake is chaos: a country in chaos, a story in chaos, a directorial vision that embraces chaos and unpredictability at every turn. But there’s a difference between a film about chaos and a film that’s out of control. Diao Yinan’s latest after his Berlin-winner Black Coal, Thin Ice is another grimy neo-noir, defined by sudden explosions of unpredictable violence. Indeed, the first major scene involves a gang meeting suddenly erupting into a civil war, and the director hyperactively intersperses wide-shots of elaborate fight choreography with more impressionistic inserts – such as a lightbulb swinging back and forth – and then moves to a motorcycle chase with an insanely gory flourish.
The issue is that Yinan then never calms down afterwards. He never establishes characters or a clear narrative through-line; we know that Zhou Zenong (Hu Ge) is on the run for accidentally killing a cop, and he’s allied himself with Liu Aiai (Gwei Lun-Mei), a kind of prostitute known as “bathing beauties” for plying their trade at the titular lake. Zhou wants to contact his ex-wife (Regina Wan), but so do the police, and the question is whether Zhou will be caught in their trap.
But every scene is shot in such a stylish way that it’s hard to know what to focus on. Most sequences are set at night, in crowded streets and warehouses, and the timelines criss-cross and dart between perspectives at an unpleasantly rapid rate. There are constant intrusions, where people suddenly walk in and out of the frame, appearing where they’re not supposed to. It’s like watching a film on fast-forward; a rape scene suddenly appears out of nowhere.
This would be fine if it fit into the overall fabric of the feature, as some seem to think it does – it might well be a valuable insight into the rage surging throughout modern Chinese society. But that’s not enough for this critic. The best noirs might have had ridiculously convoluted plots, but they always gave you something to grasp onto to guide you through it all. By choosing not to develop any characters, or emotions, or even emphasise what the viewer is looking at, Yinan makes his film needlessly difficult, when it is – at heart – a genre exercise. The neon-hazed photography is reminiscent of Bi Gan’s legitimately great Long Day’s Journey into Night from last year – but unlike with that film, we are not supposed to slip into a dreamlike haze, but actually pay attention to what’s happening. And on that level, The Wild Goose Lake fails.
The Wild Goose Lake (Nan Fang Che Zhan De Ju Hui) does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.
Watch clips from The Wild Goose Lake (Nan Fang Che Zhan De Ju Hui) here: