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Movie Review: “THE WILD GOOSE LAKE” is a modern Chinese neo-noir

Thursday, February 27, 2020 | Review


Starring Hu Ge, Liao Fan, Gwei Lun-mei and Wan Qian
Written and directed by Diao Yi’nan
Memento Films Distribution

Wuhan before the coronavirus – a murky, rainy city with an underlining current of deception and betrayal; where street gangs steal motorcycles and deal drugs in shady parking garages; where a large lake surrounded by uncharted areas make a perfect hideout. This is the world of The Wild Goose Lake, a modern Chinese neo-noir tale directed by Diao Yi’nan, who ventured into this style earlier with his 2014 picture Black Coal, Thin Ice.

The film opens with a dispute between two rival gangs who steal more motorcycles. One of the gangs is revealed to be a police sting operation undercover, and the meeting ends abruptly with a shooting by Zenong Zhou’s gang. Zhou (played by Ge Hu) and his comrades try to escape via motorcycle, but the police have set up a trap and Zhou is shot as he gets away. Injured, he hides out in a lawless, prostitute ridden area named Wild Goose Lake. The police, led by Captain Liu (Fan Liao), close in, but a bounty of ¥300,000 on Zhou’s head makes tensions boil as fellow criminals get in on the chase. Zhou wishes his wife would turn him in for bounty, but time is of the essence and there’s no honor among thieves…

The neo-noir genre has made neon-lit waves in the arthouse film scene for the past decade or so, with Nicolas Winding Refn’s successful Drive and Only God Forgives featuring a brooding protagonist in a gritty setting colored by occasional spurts of stylized bloodshed. A sort of Chinese take on this genre, The Wild Goose Lake pulls no punches, breaking with modern Chinese cinematic conventions of self-restraint and censorship. The original Mandarin title for the film is Meeting at South Train Station, bringing to mind the Hitchcock title Strangers on a Train. Wild Goose Lake is not entirely at that level of noir but does provide satisfying twists and hopefully will usher in a daring new direction for Chinese genre cinema.