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VIFF 2019 Review: The Wild Goose Lake (南方车站的聚会)

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The Wild Goose Lake is a story of a Chinese crime boss on the hunt, played by Hu Ge (right), and the woman who loves him, played by Gwei Lun-mei (left).

I was volunteering when they were showing The Wild Goose Lake. I found it intriguing to see a crime drama coming from China.

Zhao Zenong is part of a crime ring in a district of Wuhan. One night, he goes to a dingy amphitheater in the basement of a hotel. There the men are talking about the latest techniques in motorcycle theft. One man tries to direct men to certain areas of the district to conduct their crime. Two men squabble over a lucrative area and then an all-out fight ensues. The fight is brutal and bloody with no one dying. However as some of the men go riding off in their motorcycles chasing each other down, one is beheaded by a rail at a fast speed. Meanwhile a policeman who arrives is accidentally shot by Zhao in a tourist garden.

In the city, a young woman named Liu Aiai works as a prostitute. She catches Zhao’s eye. Zhao propositions her and even gives her one of his cigarettes. Turns out Liu is a ‘bathing beauty’ who’s pimp is a mob boss named Huahua. Huahua tells Liu to deliver a message to Zhao’s wife. He has placed a hefty dead-or-alive price on Zhao because the decapitated man in one of Hua’s men. Also after the shooting of the cop, the police now have a dead-or-alive reward of 300,000 Yuan for the capture of Zhao and is made public on television. Captain Liu alert a team of police dressed for undercover work that he may be in the Wild Goose Lake area: an area known for its lawlessness.

Sometime later, Aiai is at a night market participating in line dancing with glow shoes. Just as she’s dancing to ‘Rasputin,’ she notices Zhao’s wife. She meets her to tell the news. Then right in the middle of dancing, another shootout occurs through a raid of the bikers for Zhao. Zhao escapes but the bikers shoot one man.

Zhao knows all the details. He knows it when he sees all the surveillance cameras and what’s up. Men inside the crime ring want to claim the reward, with Zhao dead. One night, he meets with Aiai by the Lake.  Zhao tells her that if she turns him in, the reward money goes to his wife. Despite this, Aiai wants the reward to start a better life. Zhao has been in hiding since he’s been aware he’s a wanted man by more than one source. He does not his wife or young son to be a victim of this mess. However his own mob boss doesn’t like Zhao hiding himself. His boss still needs him to do things. The police confront Zhao’s wife and hope to use her to get Zhao in. Hua wants to use Zhao’s wife as bait for his own reward, but she breaks down over all this. A heist by the police turns up nothing. Zhao is shot, but is able to remove the bullet and bandage himself up.

One day, Zhao meets with Aiai at the lake in a boat. They share what could be one last cigarette. They caress and Zhao confesses everything to her. That night one of Hua’s men grabs Aiai and rapes her. The man is then shot by Zhao. But right in Wuhan’s market area, the police are on the chase for him. Zhao knows he has to make a run for it. He tries to make a run for the Lake, but is shot and killed. The police arrive led by Captain Liu and the news media comes as well. In the aftermath, Aiai and Zhao’s widow are seen together, and smiling.

There have been crime stories before. Most of them have been the common cat-and-mouse story that we see again in this film. Zhao has a ransom on his head and almost everybody surrounding him from law authorities to rivals to people even of his own crime syndicate want the big-money reward. It’s not just about a big crime boss trying to avoid being killed. It’s also how through Aiai we see another side of him. The outside sees a heartless criminal who’s hard to catch and hard to kill. When he’s with Liu, we see a man with feelings of love and sensitivity. A man who does have frailty and knows that he’s not that invincible. A man who shared with her more than just cigarettes. A man who wants to keep his wife and child out of his doings. Also unlike most of the other men in the crime world, he knew how to treat a lady right. Very rarely do we see a film that shows a sensitive side to a crime boss. The film does have the ability to be labeled a romance as it can be labeled a crime thriller.

The film is not just about the boss Zhao. It’s also about Aiai Liu: the woman in between. Aiai Liu is the woman who has Zhao’s heart. Zhao may be married to another woman, but it’s Aiai who Zhao drops his feelings of egotistical invincibility and shows he has a heart. However Aiai knows being involved with Zhao will make her a target. She knows men will want to target her and even violate her. She appears to know of the risk and is willing to make that risk. The smile between her and Zhao’s wife at the end does make one wonder. Are they smiling because they’re finally free? Or are they smiling in remembrance of Zhao?

The film succeeds not only as a drama, but also from its many cinema angles. The bike chases add to the excitement. The times between Zhao and Aiai add a calmness to the film at the right time and done in top notch film noir style. The addition of many of the shootings happening near a tourist section of the Lake and with surrounding animals add to the storytelling. The use of the Lake being where Zhao shows his frailty and fearfulness around Aiai also adds. The use of lights and colors in various shots, the sights of the worn buildings of the market town, and images of trains passing which has been done numerous times in crime stories also add to the film and its quality. It’s almost as if film noir has a Chinese quality added to it.

This is an accomplishment for writer/director Diao Yinan. He’s had two decades of renowned success with Black Coal, Thin Ice winning the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Here he takes on a crime story and does it with remarkable style. The story may be confusing and overdrawn in some areas, like Aiai’s rape, but he presents it in excellent fashion. Diao may have a lot of common elements of film noir in the past in this film, but it’s adding these elements to this film that shows a Chinese filmmaker can create film noir and make it look like his own.

One thing that’s rare in action films is deep acting, there was a lot here. Ge Hu was excellent as Zhao Zenong. He did a great job in making him go from this fearless invincible criminal a troubled man haunted by his impending death whenever he’s around Aiai. Lun-Wei Kwei was also very good as the woman caught in the middle who has feelings for Zhao, but also knows she has her own job to do. Also kudos to the cinematography of Dong Jingsong and the art direction of Qiang Liu.

This film was a nominee for the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and was also a nominee for a major prize at the San Sebastian Film fest. There have been times during the film or even after the film I wondered how would a story about organized crime in China make it to the big screen? Would the Chinese government be concerned and want the film to be censored? This film is planned for release in China on December 6th of this year.

The Wild Goose Lake is a crime drama of the pursuit of chasing down a big crime boss for the sake of a reward. However the story is a lot more as it’s about the woman he loves and her feelings towards him, and living in the same criminal world he lives in.

VIFF 2017 Review: Dragonfly Eyes

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Dragonfly Eyes is a feature drama done through surveillance footage. This is one of the many surveillance images used in the film.

Dragonfly Eyes is a Chinese experimental film that attempts to use surveillance camera footage as a way to tell a story. It’s a unique story in its own.

The story begins in a Buddhist monastery. A young girl named Qing Ting, which means ‘dragonfly,’ has left the monastery in search of a better life. Ke Fan is a young man working a job at a cow farm. One day he catches the attention of Qing Ting. They have conversation, but it’s brief. She knows him and his farm work, but she tries to keep a public distance from him. She’s concerned for her social status about how she’ll look conversating with a ‘farm boy.’

Eventually she admits that she does love him and the two become a couple. However Qing Ting loses her job at a cleaner’s when a pushy rich woman gets more demanding and then demands Qing Ting be fired. Ke Fan swears to Qing Ting he will gets revenge for her. He does just that by driving in front of the rich couple’s car and smashing in their front at a red light. The incident lands Ke Fan a four-year prison term.

Four years have passed and Ke Fan is released from prison. The first thing he does is try to look for Qing Ting. He goes to where she used to live, goes to her former jobs. No sign. Then he learns of an internet celebrity by the name of Xiao Xiao. He sees her and notices that it’s Qing Ting. He tries to conversate with her, but she keeps on denying she’s Qing Ting. Then one day, she gives negative comments about a singing star. That leads to a lot of online flack delivered to her. Xiao Xiao is devastated and it drives her to suicide. Ke Fan learns of this. He feels what he must do is undergo plastic surgery to have Qing Ting’s face. After the operation, he returns to the monastery where she used to serve. It is there she chooses to stay.

This is definitely a film you can call experimental. You can also describe it as ambitious for Xu Bing. One thing we learn is that China is a country full of surveillance cameras. The average person’s face is seen on surveillance cameras 300 times a day. The cameras are all state-run. It is through this that Xu Bing came up with the idea to do a fictional story through use of surveillance. I tried to be as observant as I could with the film. I was trying to spot out if Xu Bing was using the same actors to play Ke Fan and Qing Ting. One thing about the film is that the parts are voiced over by Lui Yongfang for Qing Ting and Su Shangqing for Ke Fan.

I do give Xu Bing kudos for trying to make a film of this caliber and this experimental. However I have to say that it is flawed. The biggest thing is a story that appeared to make sense from time to time, but ended in a bizarre fashion. How does one try to keep the spirit of a deceased person alive by undergoing plastic surgery to look like them? The scene where Ke Fan joins the monastery made a little more sense as it can be seen as a way to keep Qing Ting’s spirit alive. However the plastic surgery really has me wondering.

I can understand that Xu Bing is trying to make more than one statement to make in this film. I think through the character of Qing Ting, he trying to make a statement of one being consumed by materialism. We have a young girl who leaves the monastery and then gets consumed in the modern world of materialism, and then she commits suicide. Also I feel with this film using surveillance camera footage, I think he’s also trying to make a statement about the chaos of this world we live in. It’s noted when the film goes from footage used as part of the drama shifting to general surveillance footage consisting of car crashes, people on the go, a disaster, a woman drowning in a pond, and even business footage. Whatever statements Xu is trying to make, it doesn’t come across smoothly and it comes across rather confusing. I will acknowledge Xu’s Dragonfly Eyes as a brave first-attempt at a ‘surveillance-drama’ and anticipate better in the years to come.

Dragonfly Eyes is an ambition attempt at creating a live-action film through surveillance footage, but it comes off as messy and confusing.

My World Cup Experience: FIFA Fan Zone

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You can understand with the WWC happening here in Vancouver, there would be a ton of excitement. And rightly so. Fortunately for the city, we are one city getting the FIFA Fan Zone. On Monday, I thought I’d check the Fan Zone out for myself.

Usually when there are special things like these, I go alone before I go with friends to see what it’s like. Such was the case when I went to the FIFA Fan Zone two days ago. It’s located at Landwill Park: a concrete parking lot big enough to host downtown events. It was also the sight of events held for the Vancouver Winter Olympics five years ago. It’s located nearby BC Place which will host nine matches including the Final for the Cup.

HAVE A COKE AND A SMILE

The Zone has Coca-Cola as a major sponsor. As such free Cokes were given out to people in commemorative World Cup bottles. Coca-cola was the most noticeable sponsor at the Fan Zone but it wasn’t the only one. There was also a special photo stage from Adidas where one can get a picture of themselves kicking a soccer ball in a multitude of locations. There was also Hyundai asking people what kind of fan they are with a whole bunch of questions ending with entry into a contest to win a Hyundai.

It wasn’t only the big brand names advertising there. There was also a Canadian online security system which featured a photo op to have you as the goalkeeper and asked what kind of defender you are in promotion of their online service. There were local vendors selling food. There was also the BC Sports Hall of Fame promoting their place. They also had a sample of the turf being used at BC Place during the World Cup. It looked like real grass but felt like silicon.

GAMES, GAMES, GAMES

The mini-field is an ideal place for small children to simply play football or learn new skills.

The mini-field is an ideal place for small children to simply play football or learn new skills.

The biggest thing you’ll notice at the Fun Zone is the games featured at the Fun Zone. Remember I told you about the Ultimate Goalie? She’s back and she still performs as well as she did back at Metrotown. Included especially for the Fun Zone is a child drop-off area where children can practice football skills on a mini-field.

There were some new games this time around. There was also a dribbling game. It was a case of a mat of eight circles where one lights up at any time. You’re to dribble the ball to touch that circle. Once you get it there, you get 10 points and have to dribble to the next lit-up circle. You have to get a certain number of points to win a prize. I tried it and I didn’t!

Goalkeeper Challenge allows the player to virtually block the ball with their hands.

Goalkeeper Challenge allows the player to virtually block the ball with their hands.

There were also video games involving performance. One was a penalty kick game called Kickpoint. No goalkeeper there but when you kick the ball to the next, the area it hits is of a certain pointage as displayed on the computer. Hit the area with big points and you win a prize.

Then there’s the chance for the player to be the goalkeeper in the video game called Goalkeeper Challenge. However there’s no controller. This is a body scan game where the game corresponds with the player’s arm and hand movements. However they have to be in the right catching position as they will have to try to catch the virtual ball kicked at them.

SIT BACK, RELAX AND CHEER

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The Fan Zone is the place to sit back, relax and cheer you team on in a well-shaded area.

The games are mostly fun for children. The Fun Zone is especially there for the fan. The Zone has a wide canopy where people can watch games on a Jumbotron. It’s a good opportunity to kick back, relax or even cheer loudly.  Alcohol consumption is fine in the Fan Zone but the Zone includes a lounge area which serves special drinks.

At the time, they were actually showing the U.S. vs. Australia game instead of the games being contested at BC Place. Games are already scheduled well in advance so even on the days matches are played simultaneously, there will only be one broadcast match. One thing’s for sure. Every game Canada plays will be broadcast there.

MORE THAN FUN AND GAMES

FIFA's Live Your Goals campaign to expand women's football was a major feature at the Fan Zone.

FIFA’s Live Your Goals campaign to expand women’s football was a major feature at the Fan Zone.

Sure there are a lot of fun and games at the FIFA Fan Zone. However the Fan Zone also takes the time to focus on women’s football. The locker room-style setting where one learns of the history of the Women’s World Cup returns to the Fan Zone after good views at the trophy tour. The ‘Live Your Goals’ program that I talked about in my blog about women’s football is there for promotion. It has a goal and a vision of expanding football especially in developing countries and other countries where football has been traditionally seen as a man’s game. As mentioned in my former blog, it plans to increase the number of girls and women playing football from 30 million to 45 million before the start of the 2019 WWC in France.

MORE DAYS TO COME

Special note to Vancouver residents is that the Fan Zone is not open every single day of the WWC. It is definitely open on days when Team Canada is scheduled to play and whenever Vancouver is hosting a game. Below is the schedule for other days when the Fan Zone will be open:

  • Friday June 11 – 12 noon to 9 pm
  • Monday June 15 – 12 noon to 8 pm
  • Tuesday June 16 – 12 noon to 8 pm
  • Sunday June 21 – 12 noon to 8 pm
  • Tuesday June 23 – 3 pm to 10 pm
  • Saturday June 27 – 12 noon to 8 pm
  • Wednesday July 1 (Canada Day) – 12 noon to 8 pm
  • Saturday July 4 – 12 noon to 5 pm
  • Sunday July 5 – 12 noon to 8 pm

Musical performers are slated to perform on the days it’s open.

As for my visit, it was nice to see what it was like to be there. It would be neat to see a game but especially if it was crowded. I know it will be during the finals or during games where Team Canada plays. I was also able to see a ‘freestyle footballer’ as she demonstrated her foot juggling skills with the football. That’s something that has been growing lately: freestyle football. I saw people get their faces painted to cheer on their teams. I saw a news crew from Switzerland interview a couple of Swiss fans. It was nice.

If you’re in Vancouver, go and visit the FIFA Fan zone when you have a chance. Good for families, good for young ones who want to cheer on their team, good for anyone.