Saturday, November 17, 2018

A Cool Fish

A surprisingly packed house for this one, making me wonder if anyone in it is a big star in China that I just don't know about. A little poking around indicates that Ma Yinyin may me some sort of singer, but maybe not. Heck if I know. Part of the fun of going to these Chinese movies (and other foreign films that get quick American releases) is that I'm kind of disconnected from the hype machine or much sense of how one character must be important because he's being played by a big star or whether someone is playing against type and can just enjoy it (or not) for what I see without baggage, but I do also wonder what the hook is to get people in.

Anyway, this one seems kind of unlucky in its timing, coming out five days before the Thanksgiving releases and not actually having anything on the ticketing websites past Monday. It's worth a look if you like this sort of movie, but act quick.

Huang Qiang Zou Ban (A Cool Fish)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 November 2018 in AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run, DCP)

A Cool Fish is a genuinely screwy movie by the time the credits roll, and I'm curious as to whether the script was never quite finished or if the film got screwed with at some point, whether by the studio or some other entity. It feels like it was going to be a slickly made crime movie where everything was either on a collision course tied together, but the filmmakers never actually get everything in sync beyond random coincidence, and while it could have worked as fate, that gets undone by someone demanding things wrap up neatly.

It starts out as a real mess - two would-be crooks with the nicknames of "Big Head" (Pan Binlong) and "Bra" (Zhang Yu) have just about everything possible go wrong in as bizarre a way possible, right down to when they break into an apartment to hide out only to find it occupied by quadriplegic Jiaqi (Ren Suxi), who manages to have a number of laughs at their expense and seems to be counting on the fact that the can't let someone who has seen their faces live. Across town, Ma Xianyong (Chen Jianbin) is being humiliated as he works on a building site as a security guard, with shady investor Lin Wu (Deng Gang) holding mock funerals for absentee developer Gao Ming (Wang Yanhui), who seems to be hiding from his debts/eloping with mistress Liu Wenhong (Cheng Yi). Ma's attention is drawn to the robbery in part because he suspects the gun used is the one that was dug up on the site, and solving this case might get him back into the police department as an auxiliary officer. He could use that - daughter Yiyi (Deng Enxi) has tuition coming due, even if she does appear to be dating Gao's son Xiang (Ning Huanyu). All those folks and more running around and the "masseuse" that the police were interviewing in the flash-forward, "Zhenzhen" Zhao Hongxia (Ma Yinyin) hasn't even been brought up.

In retrospect, the film maybe isn't as built on unnecessary coincidence and connection as may seem the case at the time, with several plot threads actually less intertwined than one might assume (it doesn't help that most descriptions of the film note that two characters are siblings which gives that connection undue importance in the viewer's head). Director Rao Xiaozhi and co-writer Lei Zhilong still have trouble meshing them, though, and have enough going on that by the time they've cut the film down to something appropriately fast-paced, the chaotic last act is turning on two extremely minor characters having a close connection that was just recently revealed but which still doesn't feel particularly important.

Full review at EFC.

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