Sunday, January 26, 2014

Design of Death (2012) Chinese New Year 2014

A kind of spiritual cousin to director Guan Hu's earlier Cow is set in another village in the 1940's, though this time in the Southern Part of China. Nominally a comedy the film has a very dark, and at some points almost too dark to be funny, tone .

The plot of the film has Simon Yam almost running over a sack in the road. Stopping to see what is in it he opens it to find Huang Bo tied up inside it. He had been placed there by some villagers and then beaten before being thrown off a cliff. Bo threatens to kill Yam but decides to let him live, he then wanders off down the mountain. Months later Yam is dispatched to a village of long lived people where someone is supposed to have died. On his way to the town he finds Huang Bo laying dead in the mountains. Taking the body into the village Yam begins to investigate what happened to Bo and why. Was it plague as the villagers say or was it something else?

Huang Bo is amazing playing a huge mountain of a man who is constantly pulling pranks and annoying the piss out of the villagers. You know why they want him dead. You also manage, over the course of the film not to hate him quite as much as we do early on, there is something about the man that we warm to. He is in a way a kind of Frankenstein monster of misunderstandings.  He's so good that by the time the film ends he will have gone from some you hate to someone who has broken your heart.

Simon Yam is amazing. While an important character to the story, the film unravels through his eyes he isn't on screen all that much, and yet when he appears he holds your attention and allows you to see events unfolding and changing like the opening of a flower. What I like is that he manages to play all the emotions, from broad comedy, to deadly seriousness with an ease that makes it all believable. (Yam is one of the best actors working today anywhere in the world)

This is a super little film. How has this not gotten any real notice? I suspect that the weird tonal shifts from comedy to drama to mystery to tragedy has something to do with it. How do you describe the film when it is constantly shifting before you? To say it's one thing is to sell it short and annoy anyone expecting that one thing. My best advice is find a copy and just watch the film since all you really need know is its really good film that's not like any other one you're likely to see.

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