The Wild Goose Lake – Nan Fang Che Zhan De Ju Hui (2019)
Directed by: Yi’nan Diao | 113 minutes | crime, drama | Actors: Ge Hu, Lun-Mei Kwei, Fan Liao, Regina Wan, Dao Qi, Jue Huang, Zeng Meihuizi, Yicong Zhang, Yongzhong Chen, Chloe Maayan
When the leader of a notorious biker gang accidentally shoots a cop and puts a price on his head, he runs away. Pursued by both cops and mobsters, all of whom have their sights on the tip money, he hides on the shores of Wildeganzenmeer, where a mysterious prostitute offers him help in exchange for her freedom. They both find themselves at a dead end, desperately looking for a way out of their troubled existence. Together, they are willing to gamble one last time and risk their fate.
Director Yi’nan Diao achieved considerable success in 2014 with ‘Black Coal, Thin Ice’ (‘Bai ri yan huo’). The melancholy beautiful print, for example, won a Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. In some respects, Diao continues the line of that film to his new piece. ‘The Wild Goose Lake’, which was nominated for a Golden Palm, is also a fine example of melancholy neo-noir. The film has all the ingredients that make good vintage noir such a visual treat: classic crime elements, characters that are mostly gray instead of being all good or bad, dingy streets and slums bathed in fluorescent neon colors, seductive women with dark secrets and a tormented protagonist; it all comes together in this stylized journey along the unsightly fringes (visualized by seedy gambling dens, vacant and dilapidated buildings and squalid textile factories) of modern China.
In the film universe of Diao, China’s industrial awakening and rapid modernization have certainly not brought the promised prosperity to everyone. On the contrary, material progress here has led to moral flattening. The main characters are people who have outrun themselves and their dreams of a better future, thus symbolizing the diseases of the modern age. The dark, pessimistic keynote of ‘The Wild Goose Lake’ is further enhanced by the continuous threat of furiosity and degeneracy. The scenes of violence are not overstated, but they are intense, grim, plastic and often very cleverly filmed. This makes them extra hard for the viewer.
The only caveat you can make with ‘The Wild Goose Lake’ is that there is an abundance of information and side characters. This sometimes makes the story a bit messy and difficult to follow, also because some subplots and characters add little to the overall storyline. Yet the combination of visual grandeur and a sultry noir atmosphere makes for an intriguing film that lasts from start to finish.