A con-team couple (Andy Lau & Rene Liu) head west after taking a city businessman for his BMW. But an encounter with a naive young carpenter travelling home with his life savings challenges their fate as thieves.
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A loose adaptation of Hamlet, "The Night Banquet" is set in an empire in chaos. The Emperor, the Empress, the Crown Prince, the Minister and the General all have their own enemies they would like to finish off at a night banquet.
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Two grifters, Wang Bo and Wang Li, a couple who've been arguing, board a train in rural China. He wants to fleece a peasant, nicknamed Dumbo for his naiveté, who's carrying 60,000 yuan and trusts everyone. She wants to protect the hick kid, an act of expiation brought on by prayer and a visit to a temple. Also on board are one of more sets of thieves, including a calculating boss and his femme fatale. The boss wants to recruit Wang Bo, and a series of contests ensue, with the potential of turning deadly. While Li guards Dumbo from Bo and the others, can she and Bo sort out their relationship? And can Dumbo's simple spirituality touch anyone else? Written by
A Nutshell Review: (DVD) A World Without Thieves (2004)
A world without thieves is close to impossible, at least not in our modern world where there are those who covert what others have, and given no means of obtaining those items legitimately, seek the easier way out and give in to temptation. But there are those who naively think that such an utopia is possible, perhaps given their simple background, and their trusting nature to not see the evils of man. Sha Gen the Dumbo (Wang Baoqiang) is one such person, who declares and openly challenges, on a crowded passenger platform to would-be (and to himself, non existent) thieves, that he has RMB60K on him.
Andy Lau and Rene Liu play Wang Bo and Wang Li respectively, a Bonnie and Clyde styled couple whose profession is to profit from conning and thievery. They're skilled pickpockets, and in a scene set in a temple, we see what Wang Bo is capable of with his deft hands armed only with a thin razor. Things don't go down well for the couple as Wang Li decides to forgo the partnership and go legit, for fear of karmic retribution. As such, she takes it on herself to look after the kind hearted Dumbo, and what could Wang Bo do except to go along, even though he's secretly harbouring thoughts on that 60K cash package.
But like the adage of washing your hands in the golden basin, their will and skills are put to the test when Uncle Li (Ge You) and his band of merry thieves which include Lam Ka Tung as Four Eyes and Li Bingbing as Leaf, board the same train, and constantly poke and probe for opportunities to succeed in fleecing Dumbo like a helpless sheep when his guardian wolves are less than alert. It's a classic cat and mouse game, with each side displaying their fangs as they encircle their prey, with the prey none the wiser to the drawing of territorial lines.
It's not very often in recent times that you have a movie set for the most parts on board a train, and good ones at that, unless you pass the likes of Steven Seagal's Under Siege 2. The first Mission: Impossible movie had a great action sequence, Bollywood's Dil Se featured an awesome dance on the roof of a moving train, and The Darjeeling Limited and Before Sunrise had great conversations, but I'd dare say Feng Xiaogang bested them all with this movie. It's not difficult then to say that I've enjoyed this movie, having seen his Banquet and Assembly, both of which I had liked, and I guess his works are now on my watchlist.
But it's not all claustrophobic in having everything set on a train. There were ample opportunities for lush cinematography to accentuate the beautiful vast lands that China has, although at some points to allow for action sequences, some of them had to be superimposed instead. Don't let that mar your enjoyment though, as the effects were pretty much nicely done, on par with what you'd come to expect with movies made in Hollywood. But the characterization here takes priority as well in moving the story forward, especially with Andy Lau's character caught in the crossroads of listening to his heart, as well as figuring out the intentions behind the admiration from a grandmaster thief.
And Ge You, if you'd think his portrayal in the Banquet was one-dimensional, you should see him in action here, with his various disguises, and his silent charisma shining through, chewing up almost every scene he comes in. It's little wonder that he's a frequent feature in the films of Feng Xiaogang, and I look forward to his next with the director, starring opposite yet another Chinese thespian in Jiang Wen. Rene Liu had great chemistry with Andy Lau and thus made their couple character quite believable in their love for each other, as well as the conflict of ideals that they face which put a strain in their relationship.
The only gripe I have will be that some of the fleecing scenes were shot in too close up a manner, but it sort of emphasizes on the blink and you miss sensibilities that these crooks have to capitalize on in order to practice their trade. And that of course presents itself as a perfect opportunity to rewatch this wonderful movie again. Highly recommended!
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