Donnerstag, 9. Oktober 2014

Filmfest Hamburg: 勝利 (Uncle Victory)

Chinese writer/director 張猛 (Meng Zhang)'s kindergarten-set gangster dramedy "勝利 (Uncle Victory)" is a positively squirm-worthy clunker where the gags fall short and the tearjerks turn sour, where efforts are put in all the wrong places and just about nothing works.

Following a brief, cheesily CG'ed opening sequence we meet the title character, a heavily tattooed ex-thug recently released from jail after a ten-year stint. His broad, exaggerated body language, heavily featured in the first scenes of the movie, suggests a lowbrow laugher in the style of Hong Kong comedic genius 周星馳 (Stephen Chow). Not long afterwards, however, the camera cuts to a gigantic construction site where an entire gorge seems to have been gutted open, and sentimental music starts to play as the ghastly sight is lamented by some other thuggy-looking people and hints of an unsettled score are dopped. Thanks to some rough editing, the movie already seems narratively confusing and tonally schizophrenic by then. Some additional, not especially plausible turns of events then motivate the protagonist to run his own preschool. Together with a dancer from a nearby club, these two unlikely educators start to recruit and take care of kids and theoretically, hilarity ensues. Theoretically.

Hilarity doesn't ensue for several reasons. Besides resorting to the obvious slapstick, the screenplay can't come up with jokes with a longer fuse or a deeper reach. The acting is subpar. Lead actor 黃海波 (Haibo Huang)'s willingness to engage in embarrassing acts of simplistic construct is respectable, but funny he's not. Lead actress 張歆藝 (Xinyi Zhang) performs on an even more superficial level and comes across terribly affected. This movie is also a case where defaults in the technical department undermines the storytelling. Except for a few isolated shots where one sees consciously composed imagery, the cinematography is drably pedestrian, dampened further by some gaudy art direction. The dialogue dubbing is conspicuously poor, diminishing the immediacy of the punchlines still more.

The biggest problem probably lies in the direction, though. Doggedly juxtaposing the kiddie humor and a deadly serious revenge plot without finesse leaves the film limping between comedy and drama, mainstream and hardcore. The supposedly crowdpleasing finale with the school performance and the blood-stained mascot backfires in so many ways it's sad to watch.

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