Chinese film noirs are not the genre of films I would associate with the country but in all honesty, my preconceived bias on what China produces might be out of tune. Taking place in rural China in the 90’s the film follows Ma Zhe a detective who must solve the murder of a woman, which has a culprit that at face value seems obvious, but Ma Zhe wants to delve deeper into the case and uncover the truth. The film takes huge swings, it’s a film that takes risks and tests its audience. While I do not think that every moment works, I loved how it never played anything safe. It plays with your idea of how a murder mystery should play out and takes you on a journey which from the opening moments is truly gripping and pulls you in and never lets you go till the credit roll. The film is confidently directed by Wei Shujun who showcases a directing style that is unique and has a true voice to it. There are many shots that even days after seeing the film are ingrained in my head and have stuck with me psychologically in very distinctive and unexplainable ways.
The film’s biggest praise is that it is gorgeous to look at, every frame floods the screen with so much life, vibrancy, horror and craftmanship that brought me into this world by using the language of cinema. Rural China has not looked this incredible or as haunting. Zhu Yilong as Ma Zhe is also fantastic, he has a subtlety in his performance that is refreshing to see. This whole film could have fallen into the trap of being melodramatic which in turn would have made the film feel less grounded and I am glad we stayed on course with the mature storytelling. My biggest issue with the film Is the choices made in the latter half. As mentioned before the film takes swings and a lot of those swings happen in that latter half but for me, it did not stick the landing. Instead, it left me wanting more, I wanted the cherry on top of the cake. But maybe that is the point. I saw this film 2 days ago and it has stuck with me since then, maybe on the rewatch things will slide nicely into place and I will be fully caught in its web of mystery and drama. I do recommend the film. It is a film experience like no other and is worthy of your time. Wei Shujun is a name we should all keep our eye on as I feel this is only the beginning for him.
Written by Robert Drever