Saturday 2 December 2017

The Current Cinema - Barrie Pattison reviews a new Chinese film EXPLOSION (Zheng Chang, 2017)

Crime movies set in Chinese coal mines have been a good proposition to date - Yang Li’s 2003 Mang jing/Blind Shaft and Yi'nan Diao’s 2014 Bai ri yan huo/Black Coal,Thin Ice, several of whose cast turn up in Zheng Chang’s new Yin bao zhe/Explosion. This made the new film seem a likely.

The near to completely desaturated opening where blaster Zhao Xudong sets the charges in an underground shaft has a documentary interest (balloon packing, warning flags etc.) but when they take out four miners and the complete tunnel, he’s roughed up by his mean looking boss (“I lost a perfectly good mine because of you”) who reminds him he’s already done time over a previous blast foul-up and gives him a packet of bank notes not to tell the cops about the accident before buying off the widows.

Our hero however has been at this for twenty years and, uneasy about taking the blame, starts his own investigation, roughing up the grovelling safety officer and the chemical engineer in the process. Their scene has a spilled drop of smouldering material on his boot to be rushed out to the nearest hole before it goes whammo.

It becomes clear this is not going to be another insightful study of corruption in the coal industry but a film about blowing things up despite it’s half-hearted “What about him?” ending.

"implausibly gorgeous" Nan Yu (publicity shot)
Zhao is involved with fish tank restaurant girl Nan Yu who is implausibly gorgeous despite being got up in grubby store bought clothing and placed in a more realistic environment than her previous outings in Expendables 2 and Wolf Warrior. It gives him something to strive for.

The decayed surroundings - grime, peeling paint, discarded machinery - fail to validate the melodramatic plot offering a villainous, grasping magnate with a comatose son and indestructible hit man Ailei Yu on the pay roll. Cop Jingchun Wang has gone round saying “Trust me” before so the lead determines to rely on his blaster skills to get him and his lady friend out of strife. There’s a fair van crash down a hill side and a confrontation in a traffic jam to go with a less likely chase through a street market but the action material has lost conviction and tension by then.

This one doesn’t look or play like the earlier mainland films we’ve seen and may represent a shift into more American-ised action movies, which gives it curiosity value to go with the interest of its setting and occasion lively pieces of  staging. It’s still at George St. Event and is streaming.

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