Having won the Golden Bear of the 64th Berlinale with “Black Coal, Thin Ice” in 2014, Chinese film has gained the attention of an international audience once more. “The Wild Goose Lake” continues the social realism that Diao Yinan laid out in his big festival hit. His first features “Uniform” (2003) and “Night Train” (2007) already showed the daily life of China’s citizens, focusing on relevant topics of power and identity in the context of the working class. “Black Coal, Thin Ice” dealt with the conflict between communism and capitalism. A symbolic crime story that touches the conflict between China’s past and present. “The Wild Goose Lake” can be seen clearly in the tradition of its predecessors, as Diao picks up all of the previous topics, but also brings his noted visual presentation to perfection.
A group of undercover cops dancing with LED sneakers at a flea market to Boney M’s “Rasputin”. That’s the quintessence of “The Wild Goose Lake”, the newest noir manhunt drama by Chinese director Diao Yinan.
The bulky story evolves around a gangster that is on the run. He is calling out for his wife that he hasn’t seen for four years. Since he is under the constant fear of being caught by the police, he is sending out his acquaintances to bring her to him. But some of his friends are out for a betrayal and have an itch for the bounty that is on his head.
The gangster goes by the name of Zhou Zenong and is played by Hu Ge, who skyrocketed his career with the lead role in “Chinese Paladin” (2005) to one of China’s most popular TV actors. He won Best Actor Award both at the Magnolia and Golden Eagles Awards, two of East Asia’s renowned television awards. The new role as the exiled gangster adds a much more complex character to his previous catalog. Although he is not the center of the film, Ge has enough screen time to prove his cinematical consistency. Brilliantly in her performance is Kwai Lun-Mai (“Black Coal, Thin Ice” 2014) as one of Zhou Zenong’s acquaintances named Liu. As she tries to hunt down his wife, Liu is pursued by Liao Fan (“Ash is Purest White” 2018) as the nameless Captain of the Crime Unit. Both are part of the director’s ensemble and represent a stock of actors, including Qi Dao (“Night Train” 2007), that Diao Yinan relies on.
Although the plot takes place in an imaginary town called “Wild Goose Lake”, the core of the film relates to real circumstances. Police presence and surveillance create a constant atmosphere of paranoia. The action scenes are cold-blooded and among the best I’ve seen out of Asia this year. Diao Yinan puts his characters into a labyrinth of raw violence in front of an all too familiar tableau of neon lights representing the shady vibe of a second-tier urban area. Since the very beginning, Diao Yinan was very anxious about the color scheme of his movies. “The Wild Goose Lake” overtrumps all his other movies with a stylish color grading that redefines the meaning of neon light, maybe only matched by the works of Nicolas Winding Refn (“Drive” 2011, “Only God Forgives” 2013).
Director Diao, who previously worked as a screenwriter for Zhang Yang (“Shower” 1999) and furthermore acted in Jia Zhangke’s “Ash is Purest White” (2018), has finally arrived in the Chinese World Cinema. “The Wild Goose Lake” lives up to the expectations that popped up after the big success of “Black Coal, Thin Ice” in 2014 and proves the filmmaker’s talent. Being part of the Cannes competition this year, Yinan’s work is ready for the international stage and will surely find its well-deserved recognition around the world.