Monday 16 July 2018

The Current Cinema - Supercinephile Barrie Pattison is underwhelmed by ANIMAL WORLD (Yan Han, China)

Yan Han’s manga movie Dongwu shijie/Dungmat saigaai/Animal World is an ambitious undertaking and a big earner (though apparently not as big as expected) on its home turf where it played originally in 3D. It is about to depart from our multiplexes where it’s being run flat.

Animal World, Poster
This one is an attempt to merge a big Hollywood caper flick, like the Ocean’s films, with the Asian gambler movies - think Masahiro Shinoda‘s Kawaita hana/Pale flower(1964) or Wong Jing’s best movie, with Chow Yun-fat as Dou san/The God of Gamblers (1989) both of which kicked off apparently endless successions of follow ups.

In the new film, young penny arcade clown Li Yifeng is doing it tough. He’s already having Men in Black fantasies induced by the hours he has to put in keeping his mother Li Yijuan in emergency care, despite some assistance from his nurse girlfriend Zhou Dongyu. Our hero’s prosperous old school chum, realtor Cao Bingkun offers to cut him in on a sure fire real estate deal that will solve all his problems, if he just gets his comatose mum’s finger print on the deeds to her flat as collateral.

Our hero ought to get out of the arcade and see some movies if he swallows that, which of course he does. Turns out Cao’s been fired and is in the hole to the sharks and he immediately blows the sale of the flat at the Macao Casino. Not only that but the debt collector heavies expect our hero to settle his friend’s outstandings. 

Turns out there is one hope. Suave impresario Michael Douglas tells him the kid has the privilege of participating in the elaborate Rock, Paper, Scissors card game conducted on the wallowing black digital ship “Destiny” for the delight of high rollers tucked away behind the upper deck mirror windows while a digital tiger prowls a cage on the gaming floor. Losers are destined for sinister surgical experiments on the lower levels.

I could explain the rules and the scams the unsavory fellow players use to defeat them but that would imply I understood what was happening or indeed cared. The handling is flashy, effects heavy and derivative. The film soon loses both conviction and attention.

Douglas joins the inventory of Hollywood notables who have rolled dice in Chinese movies. Include Henry Silva in Woo fook/Fox Bat(1977), John Phillip Law in Yao-Chi Chen‘s Yuan (1980), Donald Sutherland in an early Xiaogang Feng, Da wan/Big Shot’s Funeral(2001) or Steve Buscemi in Florian Gallenberger’s John Rabe: Der Gute Deutsche von Nanking(2008). Douglas doesn’t do any better than they did.

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