Saturday, October 03, 2015

Saving Mr. Wu

After writing up a review of Lost in Hong Kong last week, I noticed a few tweets saying that the lack of reporting on its box office was a sign of how the movie business and those reporting on it were being blinded by certain prejudices, and it took a little digging to find that its success in China was huge - $100M for a comedy in September, which is more or less unheard of anywhere, with success at that order of magnitude generally only being found by Hollywood pictures in America. One thing noted by many of those articles, though, was that it might not have a long run as the sole juggernaut at the top of the charts because of some things arriving the next week, like Saving Mr. Wu.

If the turnout in China mirrors that in Boston, then it's not a huge threat; the crowd was decent, but not the "holy crap, this is selling theaters out like a massive Hollywood hit" of the previous week. Still, it's starting to feel weird copying the reviews of these movies to a mailing list about independent film; they may fit that group's definition of small releases, but they're big mainstream hits in a country with three times America's population.

I initially mentioned a certain inside joke within the review, but wound up removing that because I wasn't entirely sure it was as clever as I thought it might be and because speculating might give something away, though I can still do it here while warning of...


At one point, Zhang Hua says that they originally thought they had kidnapped Andy Lau. Not only is Lau playing Mr. Wu, but I believe the Mr. Wu in question is playing the cop - in the subtitles, Wu's given name is scrupulously avoided, although another review I read points out that the actor abducted in 2004 was one Wu Ruofu, who is listed in the cast as one of the cops. Interesting that Wu didn't play himself, although in some ways I can't blame him - why put yourself through multiple takes of replicating the worst day of your life?

Or it could just be someone with a very similar name. If it is him, though, I wonder if that's something the Chinese audience might have found too cute, best appreciated when recognized after-the-fact. Heck of a resource for Lau to have on the same set if it is, though.


All in all, pretty good, and it's always nice to see the thrillers and action/adventure movies start to make it over here as fast as the romantic comedies and youth dramas are.

Jie jiu wu xian sheng (Saving Mr.Wu)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 2 October 2015 in AMC Boston Common #19 (first-run, DCP)

It's often said, by those longing for a past golden age, that the movies were better decades ago when filmmakers had to deal with restrictions, whether imposed by the industry or communities - from pressure, the argument goes, diamonds are formed. There's some merit to this line of thinking, but watching it being applied in China can be a bit disheartening, as the Hong Kong filmmakers with a great legacy of gritty, uncompromising crime stories must deal with a government edict that Crime Does Not Pay to get access to that billion-person mainland audience. If Saving Mr. Wu weren't based upon actual events, it would probably be frustrating to watch, because it often seems to be built around dealing with a foregone conclusion as much as telling the story in the most exciting way possible.

Mr. Wu (Andy Lau), in this case, is an actor from Hong Kong in Beijing to sign a contract to appear in a new movie. He's exiting a club when a man flashing a badge tells him that his car was involved in a hit-and-run, and would he please come down to the station to clear it up? Things get a little rough, and it's soon clear that this guy is no cop. Some days later, this Zhang Hua (Wang Qianyuan) is in a police station, restrained as investigators Xing (Liu Ye) and Cao (Wu Ruofu) interrogate him. They note that Hua is watching the clock, meaning his confederates probably have orders to kill Wu and another hostage, Xiao Dou (Cai Lu), if he has not contacted them by a certain time.

There are a number of reasons why writer/director Ding Sheng (an up-and-comer known for some of Jackie Chan's more notable recent films) might decide to present his story in non-linear fashion; for one thing, it keeps both Wu and the detectives in the film as constant presences, rather than having Xing and Cao push him to the background later on. Hua's capture by the police being inevitable, just part of the rules of the genre as far as Chinese cinema is concerned, probably figures into it at some level, though - if the audience knows something is going to happen, do it quick, so that the audience can spend some time wondering how things got from A to B and hopefully having the suspense from both tracks add up when one finally catches up with the other. Ding does okay by that, although what gets said in the interrogation room does make the road to it a bit less exciting on occasion, though the uncertainty about how things are lining up does give the finale a bit more pop.

Full review on EFC.

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