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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, ... See full summary »
Anthony Chau-Sang Wong
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Set in China during the warring 1920s, notorious bandit chief Zhang descends upon a remote provincial town posing as its new mayor, an identity that he had hijacked from Old Tang, himself a small-time imposter. Hell-bent on making a fast buck, Zhang soon meets his match in the tyrannical local gentry Huang as a deadly battle of wit and brutality ensues. Written by
Although the movie is allegedly set during the Chinese civil war, the first phase of the war between the Nationalists and Communists did not start until 1927, and the movie appears to be set in a time before the first phase began.
The underlying story is about a bandit (played by Wen Jiang) who disguises himself as a local "governor" (mayor of a town). His motive is acquiring wealth through fraud, or so one is lead to believe initially. Instead, the movie turns into a complex mind-game between the bandit, named Pocky Zhang, and a local war lord (Master Huang, played by Yun-Fat Chow). A struggle ensues, and the storyline turns on who will prevail. Prostitutes (with hearts of gold, of course -- something movies seem to love even though divorced from reality) also play a major role in the story.
The joy of the movie is watching the two protagonists (each served by loyal and capable side-kicks) try to one-up each other. There are plots within plots within plots. The film is also laced with farce and a few guest appearances by an excellent traditional Chinese drum band. All characters have traits that are both admirable and foolish.
Can you stay one step ahead of the protagonists as they scheme and counter-scheme? Good luck.
My one criticism is that the English language subtitles are small and pass by on the screen so fast that it is often hard to read them completely.
If you enjoy watching cleverness unfold, with the hero ultimately prevailing, and you do not mind struggling with the dialog, this is a cute movie. It is a much more sophisticated sojourn into Chinese culture and greed that the traditional kung-fu movie. It is likely that the script reflects more than a tad of Party influence since our hero, the bandit, ultimately turns out to have a heart of gold (no pun)and care only for "the people." Fortunately, this does not distract from the plot or the characters. Wen Jiang and Yun-Fat Chow are superb lead characters, as one would expect of actors of their quality.
The movie is long at 132 minutes, but you will never be bored. Even the special effects are exceedingly well done.
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