Diao Yinan's The Wild Goose Lake, a neon noir, is proof that Chinese crime/noir films are peaking. Last year brought us Ash is Purest White and Long Day's Journey Into Night. Those films marked a resurgence of the noir genre in China. The Wild Goose Lake is less incredible but still a solid entry into an exciting genre.
On a rainy night, a man is approached by a woman with a see-through umbrella. The man is a gang leader on the lamb named Zhou Zenong (Hu Ge). The woman is Lui Aiai (Gwei Lun-Mei), who claims to be there to help him, even willing to pose as his wife. Two nights earlier, Zhou and his gang were in a contest to win a territory in the city. The goal was to steal as many motorcycles as possible. One of his men is killed during the contest and Zhou accidentally shoots a cop, mistaking him for one of the rival gang's gunmen.
The police do not take this lightly, offering up a 300,000 yuan reward for any information that leads to his capture. Zhou plots to find someone he can trust to turn him in, collect the money and give it to his wife and son. Is Lui that woman? Can Zhou make this happen, redeeming himself for abandoning his family?
This is the basic plot of The Wild Goose Lake. While it may not be anything to new or inventive, the plot serves as a structure for Yinan to contruct a moody style and impressive set pieces. The film glows with fuchsia and green. The characters are more archetypes than real people. The film seems to strive to hit upon every trope in the genre but it does so with such a lavish style and command over its visuals that one can forgive the film's emptiness. The film seems content in doing the genre with flare rather than expand it.
While watching the film, I often thought of Wong Kar-wai and Kinji Fukasaku. These may seem like disparate influences but that is the charm of the film. It has its own thing going on in the way it both lingers and bursts with violence. The film's set pieces are incredibly well executed. A nighttime police raid on a zoo brims with tension. The films climax is a wonder of lighting and camera movement to create thrilling action. Diao purposefully blurs the line between cops and criminals here. His treatment of violence often blurs tragedy and comedy. All the while, the cinematography impresses with its deep color saturation and noir lighting.
The Wild Goose Lake may not add up to anything more than a stylish tale of desperate redemption. The structure of the film often is uneven in its pacing and dreamlike in its editing. However, there are so many moments I won't soon forget in the film. Diao is a filmmaker to follow.