Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Plastic City (Dangkou /《蕩寇》)

What Have I Gotten Myself Into

Shot mostly in Brazil and against a blue/green screen, Plastic City had all the trappings of a classic gangster flick. After all, it has Hong Kong veteran Anthony Wong whom we all know can go crazy if the role calls for it, and Japan's Jo Odagiri who is more than just your pretty boy actor as showcased through his range of characters in his filmography. Unfortunately, under the rookie directorship of Yu Lik-Wai, this city became too sprawling a convoluted mess of half-baked ideas and ambitious presentation that fell flat on its face.

Supposedly, it tells the story of two Brazilian-Chinese guys - Kirin (Odagiri) and his "father" Yuda (Wong), who owns an established underground empire built on counterfeit goods. Naturally their clientele are the have-nots who want to have, and their influence extend until the corrupt politicians in scratching each other's backs. For instance, one of the rare examples of a fun scene here involved a senior politician wanting to look good to his electorate, waging war on fake products, only to have the duo's men arrested and immediately let go behind closed doors, as agreed under the table.

Sadly the film turned out to be more flashy and with more style than substance. Suffice to say Yuda got into trouble, and Kirin takes over the family business while plotting to bust Yuda out. Throw in some unbelievable romantic elements to introduce some classic flower vase roles such as Yi Huang's Ocho, whom Kirin tries to get it on with in Yuda's absence.

Many scenes don't make too much sense because they're presented in a non-linear manner, and the danger here is of course no clear demarcation when a drift in timeline happens, which Yu Lik-wai lapses into time and time again. He also seemed to have found a lot more glee in crafting highly charged and stylized action, rather than dig deeper into the motivations of the characters, or sticking to basic storytelling 101 - do not seek to confuse your audience.

Containing many stock images to highlight the seedy underbelly of Sao Paolo, and sometimes the more touristy type images of what Brazil can offer, the presentation is mostly in darkened hues to accentuate the dark side of life that the characters reside in. Speaking mostly in Portuguese, something a lot more irritating here was having to observe the voices being dubbed over, since lip movement and what's being heard seldom gel. Those who cannot stand their audio being out-of-sync, would know what I mean here, with that being the constant, distracting thorn.

The only saving grace here is the eclectic, trance inducing soundtrack, which of course is never enough to mask the stench of a stinking story nor to cover up the shortcomings of a rookie helmer. Only for die-hard fans of Anthony Wong or Jo Odagiri who don't mind giving Yu Lik-Wai a go and a chance.

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