Rural China is often object of bleak documentaries picturing the harsh realm of post-socialist China, but “Absurd Accident”, the debut feature of young film-maker Li Yuhe, produced by Hong Kong veteran Derek Yee, is showing a different and unconventional picture of provincial life. His refreshing indie noir has gained few nominations in important Film Festivals (Best Screenplay, Shanghai International Film Festival New Asian Talent – Main Competition, Macau International Movie Festival – Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Chinese Young Generation Film Forum) and has placed its young director in the spotlight.
Yang Baiwan (Xixu Chen) and Ma Lilian (Ye Gao) are the young married couple that runs the Gods Are Coming Inn, a place renowned in the whole sparsely populated region for delicious handmade noodles. But Baiwan is a repressed man; not only he is sexually impotent, he also lives in fear that his wife is having affairs with any walking male in the village. His anger is boiling under surface and the pressure is getting very high because Baiwan, as repeatedly remarked by his tigress wife, is not a man of violent action, he actually wouldn’t hurt a fly and he has no way to let out steam.
Frustrated and perpetually suspicious, he is a loose cannon and he seems to trust a shady Doctor Bi (Cao Rui) more than he trusts his wife. The practitioner who is specialised in a ridiculous “slapping and stretching” healing technique, has a special product for his gullible patient’s problem: an aphrodisiac (and very expensive) wine called “Spring Has Come Again”. But when Baiwan thinks he’s finally got the proof of his wife’s infidelity, there is no wine that can solve the situation and the silly man decides to hire a killer (as he wouldn’t hurt a fly) to murder his wife. Coincidentally, Doctor Bi knows a ruthless, chopstick-armed assassin called Mr Marco who can do the job in exchange for a small fortune. Needless to say something is bound to go very wrong and when also the old policeman on his last duty before retirement announces he wants to have a quite last day of work, well, you know you must brace yourself for a disaster.
This first part of the movie is slower than the rest and follows a conventional, linear narrative. It basically sets the mood and serves as a prequel for the mayhem that will follow. In the second part, the events take few unexpected turns, and effects start to look inexplicable to the single characters, unaware of the causes. It is the classic comedy of errors, fast, funny, absurd and the well-conceived plot is presented in a Rashomon-esque way, through the eyes of the different characters, going back and forward in time. The intricate story line, apparently based on the numerous little frauds you read everyday on the papers, is populated by an array of goofy characters and props; an odd couple of robbers, a precious ring, two blind daters, a mute, a rolling pin, car boots with a life on their own and the ubiquitous smartphones, here in an unseen-before ingenious use!
However, all these seemingly diverse characters have in common a penchant for all kind of deceptions. They try to cheat and steal to each other, they wear prosthetic bits, they fake professions and status and sadly the motivation is always greed. Not surprisingly, the consequences of all this dishonesty and lack of trust are messy at the least.
Director Li has put together a classic comedy with flare, shot in 24 days with a tiny budget and a bunch of little-known yet excellent theatre actors, in a mood that recalls the quirky frontier stories of some Coen brothers’ films (it also reminded me of Ning Hao’s “No Man’s Land”). His work is a modern moral tale of the consequences of greed, wealth and a distorted masculine ideal on an unprepared rural community and is delivered with a light touch, a fast pace and a touch of naivety. It makes it an exciting wait for his next work.