The further it recedes in the rearview mirror, the more last year’s Cannes competition looks like an exceptionally good vintage. This week, British cinema audiences can finally see the rapturous beauty of Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire for themselves, while Parasite, now with a history-making Oscar win to match its Palme d’Or, keeps racking up the numbers. That’s in addition to such standouts released last year as Atlantics, Pain and Glory and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, with plenty yet to come: only half of last year’s competition has yet been released at all.
Mubi, of course, is helping out with some lower-profile treasures. They have ferocious Brazilian provocation Bacurau coming in cinemas and on streaming later in March. Better yet, however, they’ve just added Diao Yinan’s dazzling The Wild Goose Lake to their 30-day streaming menu. The best film at Cannes last year not to win any kind of prize at all, it’s also been sold a bit short by not getting a cinema release. Don’t let it pass you by, however: this Chinese film noir is an eye-popping, screen-filling vision that deserves wider attention.
If the English-language title of Diao’s film sounds like a play of “wild goose chase”, that’s probably accidental, but also not inappropriate. In this pileup of double- and triple-crossings in the ganglands of a fictional, seedy Chinese town, the looping, labyrinthine plot often feels like an exceptionally ornate bluff. Gradually you realise that all the neon-lit beauty you take in while running Diao’s elegant, breathless obstacle course is the real point.
It begins, like many a great noir, with a shadowed meeting between a hardened criminal and an aloof femme fatale. Zhou (the superbly stoic Hu Ge) is on the run from the law after killing a cop; prostitute Liu Aiai (Gwei Lun Mei) has come to deliver a message from his wife, but perhaps also has interest in the substantial price on his head. Further complexities unfold in flashback, as we learn how things unravelled for Zhou in a heist labelled “the Olympic Games of theft”: a madcap plan to steal a town’s worth of motorbikes in two hours. Diao’s film thrives on such demented details.
Mistakes are made, spectacularly, and things get more and more tangled: if you lose the thread at some point and simply wallow in the film’s seamy, rain-soaked visual splendour and athletically choreographed action, that’s probably the idea, and you certainly won’t feel shortchanged. Though there’s a rich tradition of Asian thrillers that find lavish atmosphere in late-night noodle shops, bleak urban beaches and, perhaps more unusually, an after-hours zoo, they’re rarely presented with quite gravity-defying cinematic imagination. Revelling in hot pinks and sulphurous yellows, Diao and his ingenious cinematographer Dong Jinsong make a brilliant new world of this much-crossed terrain.
This won’t be a revelation to anyone who’s seen Diao’s previous film, the 2014 Berlin Golden Bear winner Black Coal, Thin Ice, though any newly converted fans should make haste to it. It brings the same knotty storytelling and rich, blanketing atmosphere to the film-noir genre, but in a more sombre, charred visual register, with its wintry tale of a disgraced ex-cop pursuing the unsolved murder case that ended his career. The film is widely available to stream on such outlets as Amazon.
More surprising is that Diao’s little-seen 2003 debut, Uniform, can be found streaming on Chili for a mere 90p. It’s a dark fable about a young factory worker who swipes a cop’s uniform from a laundrette and discovers the unearned power it wields when he slips it on. A simpler, scruffier study of inverted law and order than its successors, it’s a taut, witty treat in its own right – ripe for rediscovery as Diao’s luminous new film spreads its wings.
Also new to DVD and streaming this week
Black and Blue
A rookie cop goes on the run after witnessing a murder committed by corrupt boys in blue. Carried by a soulfully committed Naomie Harris, Deon Taylor’s old-school police thriller is spikier than generic outward appearances might suggest.
Chained for Life
Ableism in Hollywood goes under the microscope in Aaron Schimberg’s pointed, cleverly metatextual satire, in which a conventionally beautiful movie star – playing the role of a blind person in a dubious disability drama – falls for her facially disfigured co-star.
Terminator: Dark Fate
After a run of desperate extensions to a mutated franchise, this back-to-basics return is a marked improvement, thanks largely to a front-and-centre role for 63-year-old Linda Hamilton’s resurgent Sarah Connor. But let’s leave things there, shall we?
Japanese genre workhorse Takashi Miike is so prolific that you can afford to skip several of his films in a row, but this cheerfully grisly Tokyo underworld caper is one of his keepers, stringing one beautifully staged knockabout action set piece after another.
I discussed Netflix’s bonanza of films from the Japanese anime masters last month: a reminder that the second batch, including the essential Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, hits the service on Sunday.