The Wild Goose Lake Review

There’s something satisfyingly convoluted about Diao Yinan’s delightfully dense film The Wild Goose Lake, Cannes Film Festivalwhich recently played at the . Named after a vacation spot where the film is set, it’s a land of motorcycle thieves and bathing beauties, a criminal element living in a kind of mild truce with the local police.

There’s a business-like efficiency to the local thieves, gathering (akin the funeral home meetings in The Wire) to treat crime as a business to be divvied rather than chaos to be survived. All goes awry when a few step out of line, resulting in a chase that leaves an officer dead. The perpetrator, Zhou Zenong (Hu Ge), was unaware that it was police, but this escalation leaves him running for his life from criminal and cop alike.

Shot in with a gloriously over-the-top noirish flair, this is stuff that would make Ridley Scott drool. Droplets of rain, sharp shadows, slats of colour and moody mist coat the entire film, resulting in a dream-like haze that’s as beckoning as it is unsettling.

The films narrative density is refreshing, especially given how dumbed down many of these films tend towards. There are more characters than some fantasy epics, yet Diao keeps all the balls up in the air at once, never losing site of the narrative threads. This is complicated further by the films flashback structure, where timelines interweave and reveals come at different moments. This, coupled with visual flourishes, makes for a thoroughly entertaining and artistically rich endeavor.

A group dance sequence involving Boney M’s “Rasputin” is personally satisfying if only for recognition of the sublime nature of that pop hit, especially when performed by locals in light-up shoes. It’s the kind of throwaway bit of demented disco ephemera that Zia Zhanke throws in all the time to his films, but here the subsequent event that has these light-up shoes circling someone in the dark proves it’s all there for narrative as well as visual reasons.

Like a beautifully constructed puzzle box, The Wild Goose Lake various layers unfold in satisfying ways. With elegant violence, emotional richness and a complex yet coherent storyline, this is a rare bit of crime thriller treat that truly pays off. Above all, it’s a highly entertaining film that doesn’t for a moment eschew aesthetics, crafting a world of shadow and subterfuge that’s terrific.

The Wild Goose Lake is a hoot, a Chinese crime thriller that proves Diao Yinan is a new master of dark, thrilling noir.

/Film Rating: 8.5/10

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About the Author

Jason Gorber is a film journalist and member of the Toronto Film Critics Association. He is the Managing Editor of ThatShelf.com, Features Editor at DTK Magazine and a critic for HighDefDigest.