Saturday, April 09, 2016

Chongqing Hot Pot

If I keep going to Chinese movies that are meant to be thrillers, I'm going to keep bumping against the whole thing about how the censor bureau apparently doesn't allow crime to go unpunished on film, at least for movies taking in the present-day People's Republic, which isn't a lot of fun to write about. I mean, it's saying the same thing every time, the filmmakers don't exactly have a lot of control over it, and it kind of gives things away for the person coming in that doesn't know what China demands. But, when talking about why a heist movie is never quite as exciting as it should be, despite some nifty work; there's bounds that can't be worked around.

Makes me really wish more Hong Kong movies made it here, and more from Korea, although it seems like the riskier thrillers from there only appear in the US if they make noise at non-genre film festivals.

Chongqing Hot Pot

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 4 April 2016 at AMC Boston Common #14 (first-run, DCP)

There are bits of Chongqing Hot Pot that are clever, nifty, and well-executed enough that one almost wishes that filmmaker Yang Qing had a little bit more room to maneuver than he has in a contemporary Chinese crime comedy. He occasionally asks the audience to swallow a bit more than is reasonable (though what caper doesn't?), but manages to miss most of the places where he could slip up, and that's pretty good for this sort of movie.

The Chinese city of Chongqing, we are informed, is famous for many hot-pot restaurants, but also has a large number of sealed-off bomb shelters. They intersect in "hot pot caves", as savvy entrepreneurs expand into the empty spaces. One restaurant's three partners - unhappily-married Xu Dong (Qin Hao), deep-in-gambling-debt Liu Bo (Chen Kun), and unfortunately-nicknamed Four-Eyes (Yu Entai) - are doing that with an eye toward selling quickly. When they break into a chamber that also connects to the vault of the Chengjiang Business Bank, the smart thing to do would be to inform the police, but when they learn that middle-school classmate Yu Xiaohui (Bai Baihe) works there and is none too satisfied with the situation, possibilities open up.

You might argue that this film quite literally has a huge plot hole, in that it actually relies on there being a hole in the floor of the bank's vault but no motion detectors or video surveillance, meaning that Four-Eyes can just stumble in with nobody noticing. The film also relies on a pretty massive coincidence, though to be fair, heist movies generally aren't very interesting unless something unexpected happens. Of course, heists are also generally best when everyone involved has a part to play, and the guys are rather interchangeable in terms of the plot. It doesn't necessarily have to be that way, but Xu Dong and Four-Eyes are either a bit underwritten or have their stories pared down to keep the film moving quickly, so we don't get much of a handle on them.

Full review on EFC.

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