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Jiang Wen stars in his third directorial work that boasts a stellar cast including Joan Chen, Anthony Wong and Jaycee Chan. A polyptych of interconnected stories in different time-zones, shifting between a Yunnan village, a campus, and the Gobi Desert. Written by
One major thing works against The Sun Also Rises. Its attempt to revisit the surreal mystery genre on a mainland China backdrop faces stiff competition from arguably among the best catalogs in that precise brand of storytelling, as the country witnessed a flood of excellent entries in this form circa the late 90's to early 2000's.
Anyone who's ever seen Lunar Eclipse, Where Have All the Flowers Gone, Chicken Poets, Dazzling, I Love You, Spring Subway and quite a few others, will easily tell you this.
Also, our friend Jiang Wen, although definitely a superb actor and major contributor to the recounting of tales, is probably better when he's poking serious fun at something, to wit In the Heat of the Sun and the unforgettable Devils at the Doorstep.
When it comes to psychedelia he may not be our first choice, as his previous brush with something similar, albeit as an actor in Green Tea, wasn't really all that hot. And in The Sun Also Rises, we have him as a director, which means he's had more to do with the project, yet the result doesn't feel all that strong. It's in many ways akin to The Missing Gun, another one of his projects and also a decent if uninspired venture.
For Sun Also Rises, Jiang enlisted his own wife, Zhou Yun, probably taking a leaf out of Chen Kaige's manuscript in this sense.
She plays a wacky southerner in some unnamed remote village who goes nuts over a pair of fish-ornamented shoes that never seem to stay put yet always come back, or are somehow found. This comes much to the dismay of her son, a young villager especially good with an abacus (Jaycee Chan). He tries to keep her from going crazy, to no avail, until she proceeds to dig strange holes in the ground, go floating on the river and generally get up to all kinds of irrational mayhem. Nothing seems to help, nor ease her anguish as she keeps calling to someone named Alyosha.
In a different story arc, we move to another part of China (each story takes place in a compass bearing, no place names with the exception of a Beijing cameo), where academics find themselves in a bizarre twist of passion. Here, Jiang Wen and Anthony Wong play what are presumably educators in a secluded rural campus, while Joan Chen does a horny doctor who gets everyone worked up. There are accusations of perversion and hints-a-plenty that this is taking place during the Cultural Revolution.
The third segment in this multi-threaded affair brings a few of the characters together as Jiang Wen and his on-screen wife (Kong Wei) are sent off to the southern village to be "re-educated" in the proper ways of hard work, all under the tutelage of Jaycee Chan's character. Here too lust plays a role, but no caution, it's all friendly in the end.
Finally, the fourth part brings clever closure to the stories, featuring pretty much all the main characters and having that "Ah! That's what that was all about!" effect to a large degree, which is nice. However, it also has Zhou Yun deliver among the most screechingly irritating scenes in movie history.
The Sun Also Rises is one of those OK'ish movies that somehow leaves you thinking there's a couple more viewing in it, so go ahead, give it a chance, you may learn something.
It also fields some of Jiang's old gags from previous movies, another boon, but isn't as witty as some of the other works he's been in and basically has no strong message that we could discern. And unlike those other surreal pictures we discussed earlier, this one opts for bombastic presentation that's completely unlike the understated beauty the genre craves. It makes us think the Kunming department of tourism had a hand in this.
But still, give it a shot, you may enjoy what you get.
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