China, 2011, colour, 1.85:1, 92 mins.
Director: Huang Hong 黄宏.
Small-scale but interesting drama of switched identities pretty much delivers on its original idea.
Shubei town, southeast China, the present day. Five years after he fled with RMB800,000 from a bank robbery, Liu Chuan (Huang Jue) returns incognito to the town. Policeman Wang Laoshi (Ding Yongdai), who was on duty at the time of the robbery and was demoted for letting Liu Chuan escape, is working in the same district police station to which he was transferred after the robbery and still keeps on eye out for Liu Chuan. By chance, Liu Chuan stays in some small lodgings in Wang Laoshi’s district where Qin Xiaosong (Lin Xinru), a psychology graduate who’s run away from her domineering parents, is staying. Next day, Wang Laoshi spots Liu Chuan in the street and gives chase, finally handcuffing him in a deserted warehouse. At that moment, the town is devastated by an earthquake and the building collapses. Wang Laoshi is knocked unconscious and Liu Chuan steals his uniform. After rescuing Qin Xiaosong, Liu Chuan finds himself roped into saving other townspeople and becomes a hero in the locals’ eyes. Meanwhile, Wang Laoshi recovers and sets out to hunt down Liu Chuan.
Popular writer-comedian Huang Hong 黄宏 – who made an impressive directing debut a decade ago with 25 Kids & One Dad 二十五个孩子一个爹 (2002), about a kindly Hebei farmer who finds himself lumbered with a load of orphans – comes up with an equally high-concept idea in the drama Fallen City 倾城, seemingly inspired by the tragedy of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. The script by Huang and Wang Jinming 王金明 takes the idea of a criminal who swaps identities with the very policeman who’s been hunting him for five years and develops it into a character drama in which the former unexpectedly finds an opportunity to redeem himself for the robbery he originally committed.
With the film’s earthquake setting in southeast China, Huang is treading on still-sensitive territory here; but the movie, realistically shot in Sichuan province by cameraman Li Wensheng 李文胜 in 2009, doesn’t exploit its location for any easy heart-tugging and remains totally focused on the central drama between the two main characters. They’re well played by the charismatic Huang Jue 黄觉 (Baober in Love 恋爱中的宝贝, 2004; Wheat 麦田, 2009), as the bank robber who’s secretly come back on a personal mission, and older TV actor Ding Yongdai 丁勇岱, as the policeman who was demoted for originally letting the robber escape on his watch. The way in which the two men’s paths cross by chance prior to the earthquake and then become intertwined during the chaos afterwards is convincingly drawn, and Huang Hong’s unflashy direction always keeps its focus tight on the actors, with little melodrama.
The script doesn’t really know what to do with the character played by Taiwan actress Lin Xinru 林心如 [Ruby Lin] – a writer who’s run away from her domineering parents – and her romance with the bank robber of Huang Jue is the film’s least convincing element. But luckily it doesn’t get in the way of the central relationship between the two men that drives the film. A small-scale but interesting drama that pretty much delivers on its original idea.
Presented by Chang Ying Group (CN), Beijing Galloping Horse Film (CN). Produced by Chang Ying Group (CN), Beijing Galloping Horse Film (CN).
Script: Huang Hong, Wang Jinming. Photography: Li Wensheng. Editing: Chen Hua, Duan Xiaojie. Music: Liu Sijun. Music direction: Dong Wei. Production design: Han Chunlin. Costumes: Feng Yan. Sound: Liu Jia, Wei Jia. Action: Zhu Zhe. Special effects: Xu Mingjun.
Cast: Huang Jue (Liu Chuan), Ding Yongdai (Wang Laoshi), Lin Xinru [Ruby Lin] (Qin Xiaoxiong), Sun Min (Fan, Civil Affairs Bureau employee), Yu Bin (bank employee), Li Yixiao (school head), Hou Shijia (Li), Zhang Jie (bank employee), Zhu Xiaoxue (blind woman), Tian Donglin (landlady), Yang Yu (institute head), Ren Shilei (shoeshine man), Liu Fengkai (old school employee), Tang Zuohui (bird person), Su Su (hotpot person), Zheng Shaoxing (man), Xia Chengji (child), Wu Jia (Liu Chuan’s wife), Zuo Dan (Wei), Zhu Jia’ni (Miaomiao), Ba Deng (hairdresser), Xie Zhigang (thief), Huang Zijun (lame Liu), Dong Liang (flower person), Qing Feng (presenter), Tang Lin (newspaper person), Qiu Lian (teacher).
Premiere: Shanghai Film Festival (View China), 15 Jun 2011.
Release: China, 10 May 2013.
(Review originally published on Film Business Asia, 22 Jun 2011.)