The Wild Goose Lake (Original Title: Nanfang chezhan de juhui) is the latest addition to the neo-noir genre with its exquisite neon lighting, meticulously designed visuals, and a plot that takes the word “unpredictable” to new heights. Directed by Diao Yinan, this Chinese neo-noir follows Zhou Zenong, the leader of a gang that specializes in stealing motorcycles. After a turf war gone wrong which results in the death of a cop, Zenong must survive a literal manhunt being carried out by not only the cops but also his rival gang members all the while interacting with Lou Aiai, a prostitute whose intentions are unknown. Although this movie premiered at the Cannes Film Festival 2019, it got its wide release via. Bluray in July 2020 thus, it might be the best thriller if not the best movie of 2020.
The Wild Goose Lake: A Critical Analysis
The movie stars Hu Ge as Zenong and Gwei Lun-mei as Liu, our two main characters. They both nail their performances however, the focus of this movie is more on character development rather than individual performances. Not taking away anything from the actors though, I thought most actors perfectly embodied their characters and made them feel like real people. Realistic characters require realistic dialogues that are provided by the screenplay. Although the movie is in a foreign language, dialogue delivery and the screenplay, in general, is designed to smash the language barrier. This is a good example of The World of Movies’ Motto: #CrossCulturalConnection!
As is the case with almost all noir and neo-noirs, it can often feel that there are no “good people” in the world depicted in The Wild Goose Lake movie. Rather almost all the characters are flawed, self-serving, and people you’d never want to meet in real life. Due to this, oftentimes, the audience fails to sympathize or connect with the protagonist. However, this film is an exception. Our main protagonist though flawed wants what’s best for his family to the point that the movie becomes more about his mission rather than his survival. Therefore, Yinan crafts a protagonist that is flawed yet sympathetic at the same time.
What’s good about this film?
Visually, The Wild Goose is stunning. Jingsong Dong’s masterful cinematography elevates the movie. While the film is generally well shot, the night-time scenes cast a spell on my eyes. The wide shots combined with the neon lighting and the tremendous attention to detail make the experience very visually striking one. Reminiscent of Nicholas Winding Refn’s filmography, the film contains some of the best shot night scenes I’ve seen all this year. However, unlike Refn, Yinan doesn’t compromise the substance of his movie just to elevate the style of it. Rather the movie contains just as much substance as it does style. While Refn’s work is often very style over substance, Yinan takes a much more mature approach in balancing the two aspects; crafting a product that is both visually striking and masterfully executed. You simply have to watch this movie to see Dong’s masterfully composed shots that go from feeling claustrophobic at one instance to being expansive the next. The night scenes and the wide shots make this movie a very aesthetic experience.
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My Last Two Cents On The Wild Goose
Considering these aspects it’s pretty tragic that I don’t consider this movie a masterpiece even though it’s the best movie to be released so far this year that I’ve seen. The movie does have issues much of which come from the editing. Early in the movie, the quick cuts made the editing feel choppy and broke the flow of multiple scenes. Although there are masterful scenes in the movie later on with a minimum amount of cuts and even no cuts at all, the scenes where Yinan utilizes quick cuts do take some of the essences away from the movie. There is particularly a new report scene at the very beginning that I thought was poorly edited to the extent that it didn’t even feel like a news report because of how that scene was helmed. At times brilliant, the editing is ultimately inconsistent and can bother some people in the same way it bothered me.
In making his world so expansive, Yinan also made The Wild Goose Lake feel convoluted. Parts of this movie feel misplaced which breaks the tone and confuses the viewer as to what’s happening. Much of this can also be attributed to the editing for making certain scenes feel disjointed therefore, making the experience sort of convoluted.
Nonetheless, The Wild Goose Lake is one of the best movies to come out this year. A meticulously shot realistically acted and brilliantly composed neo-noir with a storyline that keeps the viewer on edge. Although the editing requires improvement and can sometimes make the movie feel convoluted, the visuals and the sense of tension make this movie one of the most unique experiences of 2020 and one that you shouldn’t miss.
Fun fact: The movie was shot in the Wuhan dialect rather than in traditional Mandarin Chinese therefore many Chinese audiences had to watch this movie with subtitles just like the rest of us.
The World of Movies Rating – 08/10
Movie Title: Nanfang chezhan de juhui
English Title: The Wild Goose Lake
Directed and Written by: Diao Yinan
Main Cast: Hu Ge as Zhou Zenong, Gwei Lun-mei as Liu Aiai, Liao Fan as Captain Liu, Wan Qian as Yang Shujun, Qi Dao as Hua Hua, Huang Jue as Yan Ge, Chloe Maayan as Ping Ping, Zhang Yicong as Xiao Dongbei
Year of Release: Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) 2019, International Release 2020
Genre: Crime, Drama, Neo-noir
Country of Origin: China, France
Language: Wuhan Dialect
Running time: 113 minutes
Image Source: Screenshots taken from the movie.
Reviewed by: Umar Bin Adnan