Review by Sean Boelman
Written and directed by Yi’nan Diao, The Wild Goose Lake is a new Chinese neo-noir gangster thriller from a director with a great deal of vision. And while the film’s unique visual and narrative structure is initially very appealing, it eventually loses its steam heading into a third act that isn’t nearly as effective as what preceded it.
There has seemed to be a resurgence of the Chinese crime saga in the world of Asian art cinema, or at least increased exposure for the genre in the United States. As a result, the movie comes as the latest in a trend, and while the film is still very enjoyable if that genre fits a viewer’s tastes, it also doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the table.
Perhaps the most intriguing thing about the movie is its unique tone. The film blends the genres of crime and romance quite well with its story of a gangster on the run as he meets a mysterious and alluring woman while on the run. The movie is at its best when it embraces the darker undertones of the script, but it is still effective even when it is more meditative.
On top of that, the film certainly isn’t lacking in visual style. Much of the movie is shot in dark colors infused with neon, and it’s certainly very pleasing to the eye. The film features what are sure to be some of the most gorgeous compositions of any movie to come out this year, but it’s a shame that it is unlikely to receive the attention it deserves given that it arguably isn’t “elevated” enough.
In terms of pacing, the film is extremely uneven, and this is what holds the movie back. There is a lot going on in this film, often to a point that is totally overwhelming. The movie often feels alternatingly moody and contemplative, but there are sudden bursts of excitement spread throughout, such as a martial arts fight scene, an extremely graphic decapitation, and a dance number involving light-up sneakers.
Yet despite the amount of stuff happening in the film, it doesn’t have a very good sense of narrative momentum. The audience will be hooked by the idiosyncratic first act, but will soon find themselves disappointed when things mellow out significantly towards the end. The strong introduction ultimately works against the movie as a whole, as it sets an unreasonably high precedent.
Additionally, the character development in the film is somewhat lackluster. Viewers will likely be so occupied with trying to keep up with the bizarre pacing of the narrative that the character arcs don’t have as much of the impact as they likely should. The movie would have been much more effective if the relationship between the two leads had been developed more effectively.
Yi’nan Diao’s ambitious crime saga The Wild Goose Lake has a lot working in its favor, but its unabashedly weird and unorthodox nature doesn’t always pay off. Still, it’s a film worth watching in this renaissance of Asian cinema.
The Wild Goose Lake is now playing in theaters.