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Well-directed film about bandit gang and a kidnapped woman
Having seen other films by the director Wang Tung set in modern Taiwan, I was curious to see how he dealt with a historical tale. Extremely well, it turns out.
'Run Away' begins with a dream. A young woman is washing clothes by a stream, with her farmer husband looking on. Suddenly another, physically the same as himself, abducts her, carrying her away on his horse. The dreamer wakes up, calling for Dan Zhu, who is no longer at his side. Who is she? Who is he? Where has she gone? With who? The film sets out to answer these questions, beginning with the arrival of a group of bandits in a village. Dissatisfied with the low quantity of grain offered, they kidnap the village-chief's daughter, Dan Zhu, and give ten days for the filling of the quota.
Discussion of some points follows***
On the way back to their hide-out, the kidnapped young woman is raped by one of the bandits, He Nan (who is the dreamer at the beginning of the film). She responds with frequent attempts on his life and also at escape from the lair (a disused monastery) where she is imprisoned. When the bandits return to the village ten days later, they are ambushed by troops. Many are killed, and the gang leader is captured and beheaded. The survivors flee back to their lair and lock Dan Zhu in the loft. A struggle for leadership predictably ensues. As the days go by, He Nan seems to have developed feeling for her, and defends her from his fellow bandits, who compare him unfavourably to their former chief, who gladly allowed them to rape captured women. As supplies run lower, even He Nan wonders whether it might not be better to settle down on some land, along with Dan Zhu, who he is coming to see as a likely spouse. She too, has softened towards him and is no longer attempting to kill him at every opportunity. Lack of food, however, is forcing them back to banditry, and when they target a convoy carrying tribute. The action is carried forward towards the dream shown at the start of the film, though the final denouement is not known until the very end of the film, which I will not spoil, even in this plot overview.
Discussion of plot details ended***
'Run Away' won two awards at the Golden Horse Film Festival: Best Art Direction, and Best Costume Design. Set at the end of the ninth century, attention to the details of costuming and other elements of the mise-en-scene, is obviously going to be a key factor. I'm not sure about the historical exactitude of these, but they did look appropriate and added to the enjoyment of the film. (I particularly like the long water bottles they carried, complete with cap and straw.) Several attractive landscapes were also shown, which helped give this film the feeling of a 'western', with characters moving about through terrain both rough and visually impressive.
As is to be expected, there were a few bloody battle scenes, though these were not overly gory. The direction was always controlled, avoiding indulgence in any kind of excess, be it of violence or of soapish melodrama.
The main actors were convincing in their roles, though as is usually the case, the male lead looked a little too clean and handsome to be a thoroughly authentic bandit. The rest of the gang, however, did resemble a credible bunch of outlaws. The time allowed them on screen at work and at play helped greatly to humanise them. The actress playing Dan Zhu also acquitted herself very well, conveying more by her expressions and movements than through words, and making her slow change of heart quite believable.
On the whole, this is a strong film by a mature director. The emphasis is on plot development and depth of character rather than action, and the set design and costuming were also important to bringing the film's world to life. Highly recommended.
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