OzAsia Festival Review: The Wild Goose Lake

Yi’nan Diao crafts another gritty neo-noir about a man on the run, with a bounty on his head.

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Yi’nan Diao rose to prominence in world cinema circles five years ago for writing and directing the Berlin Film Festival’s top prize winner: Black Coal, Thin Ice, an impressively complex, unfailingly stylish murder mystery.

For his latest work, Diao has crafted another intricate tale, structured in an unusual fashion, fairly languid in its pacing and overall mood, but peppered with moments of startling violence. One such incident might well be inspired by legendary Oz biker flick Stone, and another manages to bring an ironically appropriate redefinition to the name of Umbrella Entertainment…!

Lead actor Ge Hu – playing a protagonist who is on the run and with a bounty on his head for choosing the wrong man to shoot dead – has a strong presence on screen; compelling and darkly handsome without ever seeming either too lightweight or flat-footed. Lun-Mei Kwei portrays the woman who intends to assist him through such dire circumstances for the sake of his wife. Kwei’s elfin features and general reticence make for an air of inscrutability that keeps us guessing.

Whatever social comment or political observations may be gleaned from The Wild Goose Lake tend to be implicitly woven into the overall fabric of this film, rather than explicitly spelled-out on-screen. Some audience members will be seduced and satisfied by the relative understatement and subtlety of Diao’s approach, while others may wish that the director had brought slightly more overt passion to the proceedings.

Above all, The Wild Goose Lake is a genuine treat to look at, while moving along (and around) in its own particular way and at its own preferred speed. Shooting largely at night (excepting certain scenes set on the titular lake, plus the startling finale), Diao’s aesthetic incorporates such reliable ‘film noir’ tropes as neon, headlights, shadows, and raindrops – all expertly executed with the assistance of cinematographer Jingsong Dong, who has shot all four of Diao’s directorial efforts.

The rich visuals help this film make its way through passages that otherwise feel slightly too sluggish and opaque for their own good. There can be a fine line between ‘intriguing’ and ‘underwhelming’ in this type of cinema; The Wild Goose Lake is more of the former than the latter, but it’s a fairly close call.

In the end, a good number of striking elements (including some reasonably graphic sexuality, and the fleeting-but-memorable impact made by imagery of zoo creatures), plus at least one narrative twist that is likely to blindside you, make this worth a watch. Coming from Yi’nan Diao, it feels like a slight step down in quality from his best, but this is still a solid and respectable standard for any film-maker to reach.

STYLISH 3 stars

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