Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Island

Only one trailer for another Chinese movie before this one, but it was for Project Gutenberg, which comes out the week of my birthday and features Chow Yun-fat in what seems like his first "coolest damn criminal on Earth" role in quite a while, and, guys, I am there for that. I knew he was filming it and hoped it was heading stateside, but the confirmation felt so very good.

Will it get the same sort of audience here that this one did? I kind of doubt it; this theater was pretty much packed by the time the movie started. Maybe it's a smaller theater, since my tendency to sit in the center of the last row of the front section put me in the second row rather than the third, but that usually gives me a lot of space, and there were folks right next to me and in front of me. Using their phones, unfortunately, but I feel kind of weird telling people to shut their phones off when I've got a notepad out, especially when I'm the one guy in a Chinese film screening that needs the subtitles. I wouldn't be surprised if this is a huge hit in China, since Huang Bo and Wang Baoqiang are pretty big stars in a pretty decent movie, and I think Shu Qi is too. She's a big favorite of mine by now; she seems to get more beautiful with age, and has not only become a great comic actor, but she seems to like the weird movies a bit.

So - quite fond of this one, even if it is kind of drawn out.

Yi chu haoxi (The Island '18)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 10 August 2018 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run, DCP)

I am not sure where, exactly, the urge to label films as either comedy or drama comes from, but it certainly doesn't do Huang Bo's The Island any favors - that perspective makes it seem like a high-concept comedy that gets too grim or an apocalyptic take on Lord of the Flies that has too much slapstick. Seen as a whole, it's still kind of shaggy, but that's not necessarily a bad tradeoff for a movie this offbeat and oddly ambitious to make.

It's ambitious enough to start in space, where a couple of asteroids colliding has one headed in the general direction of Earth. This is not necessarily a big problem for Ma Jin (Huang); he figures that poor folks like him and foster brother Xing (Zhang Yixing) have the least to lose. A far smaller disaster - their car breaking down - almost has them miss their employer's team-building exercise, which starts out on an amphibious bus. While they're on the water, the meteor hits and the 100-foot tsunami lands them on an island, where Boss Zhang (Yu Hewei) finds that his leadership is maybe not of as much practical use as that of bus driver Dicky Wang (Wang Baoqiang), whose experience includes the army and animal training, so is at least practical in some ways. Ma Jin has other things on his mind than taking sides in that conflict, too: Just before the cataclysm, he discovered that the lottery ticket in his pocket won the jackpot, worth 60 million RMB (about nine million US dollars) - more than enough to pay off his debts and give him the courage to act on his attraction to co-worker Wu Shanshan (Shu Qi), if they get off the island and the world is still there.

To a certain extent, the comedy and drama of that situation sometimes take a back seat to how surreal Huang's vision can be. Craft like the film's "Surfing Duck" are usually used in rivers and harbors, and even before the wave hits and the van proves unusually water-tight, the sight of it out on the open sea seems peculiar. Huang (directing his first feature) doesn't stop with that, either; each stage of the movie introduces something even stranger, from a polar bear to a wrecked cruise ship to the unexplained sort of rain often used as a sign of the paranormal. For an actor directing his first feature, Huang is terrifically adept in harnessing this strangeness - not only do he and his crew often make these shots surprisingly beautiful, but he can build them to a point where the audience can feel how something conventional plays as almost inconceivable to the castaways, but there are little bits (like a homemade antenna that feels like a twitchy, scrambling alien) strewn throughout.

Full review at EFC.

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