This is less a review than a simple endorsement, but I feel nonetheless compelled to offer it. Rarely in the past twenty years has a movie captured my attention for the full run of its length. As a lifelong cinephile, I’ve seen just about everything, so part of this cinematic ennui is my own doing, my own over-exposure to movies. I’m not a fan of superheros and CGI, and it seems most days everything else, whether on Netflix, Prime, or other streaming services, seem to fall into a genre that I’d call “American Decay.” That is, stories about drug dealers and drug cops, stories of political rot, Christian suburbanites gone astray, marriages on the rocks, political scandals, true crime, spies with guns, and of course, serial killers. BORING!
Last night I finally got around to watching a film that had been critically praised and well-received around the world, and it didn’t disappoint me at all. From the opening frame to the last, I was actually held spellbound, something I haven’t experienced watching a movie, series, or drama of any sort in years. The film was Chinese filmmaker Diao Yinan’s The Wild Goose Lake.
This film is remarkable. Like I said, this isn’t a review, so I won’t detail the plot. I will only say that this movie felt like some sort of pinnacle of 21st Century digital cinema. A neo-noir crime thriller and sneaky-smart social commentary, it takes place mostly at night, in the labyrinthian squalor of a suburban lakeside park area. But this is not the suburbs of North America, this is China, where, despite the government’s recent proclamation of its successful eradication of extreme poverty, the film makes it clear that there remains much more economic work to be done if the nation wants its citizens to avoid the choices the movie’s characters are forced to make.
Being a noir, the film has a distinct and stylish mood. The film makes fantastic use of its locations, and the staging of countless characters in an impossibly complex warren of food stalls, squalid apartments, alleys and pakland is nothing short of astonishing. The digital cinematography is amazing too, full of lurid colours and high-contrast nighttime noir moodiness. But this is no exercise in style alone. The screenplay is remarkable too, for its restrained complexity. I never knew what was coming at any point in the story, yet at every point in the story I found myself tensely awaiting whatever it was. Several extended flashbacks provide not only insight into the character’s motivations, but an opportunity to see into the workings of an entire world of crime and law-enforcement. Long moments of stillness and mood are punctuated with surprising flashes of surprising violence.
For those of you who long to be amazed by the cinema, are tired of watching cowboys, doctors, drug lords and special agents, costumed superheroes who don’t even eat, or ‘successful high-powered’ anythings, or even if you are a follower of Chinese or Korean cinemas and tired of their mainstream stories of either medieval sword and sorcery, or gleaming office towers peopled with fashionable government prosecutors, this film can work its magic on you if you give it a chance. The Wild Goose Lake is truly wild.