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Anthony Chau-Sang Wong
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Set in China during the warring 1920s, notorious bandit chief Zhang descends upon a remote provincial town posing as its new mayor, an identity that he had hijacked from Old Tang, himself a small-time imposter. Hell-bent on making a fast buck, Zhang soon meets his match in the tyrannical local gentry Huang as a deadly battle of wit and brutality ensues.Written by
Comedy and violence don't work together particularly well but mostly it is playful and benefits from good performances
"Pocky" Zhang is a notorious bandit who robs trains and any other soft target. When a train robbery turns up no loot, a different prize is sought as it does contain a con artist (Tang) who was on his way to Goose Town to pose as their Governor for a while then make off with the taxes. Zhang agrees to spare Tang in exchange for the role and together they head to Goose Town, however once there they discover that the role of Governor is secondary to that of Godfather – a role held by Master Huang.
I came to this film having heard that I wouldn't "get it" because it was a Chinese film which was not for the international market. Whether this is the case or not I do not know, but perhaps regardless of nationality, the film only partially worked for me. The plot and the characters weren't an issue for me and I enjoyed the back and forward of the various twists and turns of the story. The action was not quite as good and those coming here for the action suggested by the title will almost certainly be disappointed since it doesn't deliver on that front as much. The comedy aspect is a strange mix and maybe this is the thing that I wouldn't "get" by being from Northern Ireland.
At times it is quite playful and witty but then at the same time it is pretty violent . In and of itself, I don't have a problem with this because it can work but in this case I didn't feel like it did as the violence was almost too jarring and too heavy or serious to really be able to be darkly funny in the way needed. The direction is a little bit excessive in the same way – not making its different extremes really work together particularly well, but it does still have some things about it which I enjoyed and mostly the tone of the film is consistent. The winner for me was the performances from the lead actors because they sold their characters better than the material did. Chow overplays it perhaps but he is a good foil for the rather calmer playing from Wen Jiang (who I really liked here). Xiaogang Fen is fun too in support as Tang.
Although I am not Chinese, I did still quite enjoy this film even if I didn't think it totally worked. The comedy aspect is odd and the violence doesn't always work with it as it should, although the playful spirit of most of the film combines well with the delivery of Chow and Wen to make it better than it otherwise would have been.
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