I have to admit my knowledge of Mongolian cinema is practically non-existent. Due to the fact, I was really excited to watch my first film from the country, while the theme of school gangs made the prospect even more interesting. Let us see how the movie fared though.
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The script revolves around the merger of two schools due to budget cuts and the subsequent antagonism between the “gangs” of the two, in a race that soon involves girlfriends, relatives and eventually takes a very dangerous turn. In this setting, distinct groups are formed. The first one is headed by Dulguun, the “hero”, a very nice and handsome teenager who is also a martial artist whose group includes a number of friends who also deal with martial arts including a rather butch girl. Dulguun soon finds himself attracted to Egshiglen, a very beautiful girl from the “other” school who also seems anything but unresponsive to his woes. This relationship, however, brings him in a feud with Tsengel, a rich boy who used to date Egshiglen. When his sister, who seems to be in love but gets ignored by Dulguun, decides to weave an intricate plot targeting her love interest’s friends, violence takes charge of the story, until the eventual showdown between the two sides that are eventually formed in the school.
Nyamdavaa Baasansuren directs a film that uses the “school gangs” theme as a base to present a number of social comments, including teenage romance, maturity, the way the school functions, obsession with internet games, family and friendship. These comments add depth to the movie, but I felt that, at 84 minutes, the director rather overextended himself with a number of the aforementioned concepts appearing as out-of-place and undeveloped, particularly the ones drawn from Tsengel’s arc. On a better level, but not by far, lies the romantic relationship between Dulguun and Egshiglen, which is examined very briefly, while a nice enough job has been done on the concept of friendship, which is presented through a number of episodes.
On the other hand, I found the action scenes quite exciting, despite some flaws in the depiction of the impact of the various hits, with the tendency finding its apogee in the final clash, which is nicely choreographed by Tsenden-ish Boldbaatar, and includes a number of individuals fighting simultaneously. Altankkhuyag Khash-Erdene’s music is another of the film’s traits, as he presents a number of very interesting guitarist (occasionally in hard rock/heavy metal style) tracks that fit the action scenes greatly.
Khurelbaatar Unurbayasgalan’s cinematography seems kind of simplistic to the point of amateurish, as it highlights the fact that the film was shot cheaply, with a digital camera.
The acting is also kind of awkward, as the young actors do not manage to hide their inexperience. Dorjsuren Battogtogh as Dulguun highlights his appearance and training in martial arts but his acting is mediocre and Baasansuren seems to demand too much of him. The same applies to Batbayar Solongo as Egshiglen, whose part, though, is not as demanding, thus allowing her to shine just with her looks. The best performance in the film actually comes from the director himself who plays Nyambayar, a frustrated youth in Dulguun’s gang, with gusto.
Baasansuren shows some potential, both as director and as an actor, but I felt that the film would be much better if he could focus on the action aspect and the concept of school gangs, since the film had all the prerequisites of becoming a very interesting exploitation production, kind of a Mongolian, low budget edition of Miike’s “Crows Zero” .
Although kind of amateurish (I will make a more general remark when I have seen more Mongolian films), “Shift” is a nice enough effort, that definitely deserves a look.