France/Thailand, 2011, colour, 1.85:1, 93 mins.
Director: Charles de Meaux.
Clumsy, Macau-set jockey drama makes a poor Anglophone debut for Mainland icon Fan Bingbing.
France, the present day. After failing a drugs test, ambitious young jockey Christophe (Nicolas Cazalé) is suspended for six months and decides to join his friend Cédric (Cédric Segeon) in Macau, where he quickly gets work. After Cédric leaves, Christophe meets racehorse owner-cum-professional gambler Way Way (Lu Guanting) who spots a winner and takes him on a jockey. With a run of successes and under Way Way’s patronage, Christophe enters the world of fame, money and women. He also gets to know Pansy (Fan Bingbing), a woman from Shanghai, who is close friends with the powerful gambler Monteiro (David Carradine). However, when Way Way instructs him to deliberately throw a race, Christophe refuses, and he comes into contact with the sport’s darker side of big-money gambling. Pansy saves him through her connections with Monteiro and Christophe then starts working for Thong (Zhang Zifu) instead. But then Thong tells Christophe to throw the prestigious Quintee Cup race.
For her English-language debut, Mainland mega-icon Fan Bingbing 范冰冰 stumbles badly, both in her own performance and in her choice of vehicle. Though partly hobbled by the death on 3 Jun 2009 of David Carradine (seen in only two scenes) just before the end of shooting, this second feature by former French jockey Charles de Meaux – who previously made the way-out-there, Central Asian-set Shimkent Hotel (2003) – doesn’t score high for either coherence, English dialogue or involving drama. On the plus side, the drama about an ambitious young French jockey making it big in Macau boasts some striking cityscapes of the territory that have a coolly abstract, painterly quality, and are far from the usual bustle-and-neon images beloved of western film-makers. Material shot in Bangkok – where de Meaux has connections from being a regular producer for auteur director Apichatpong Weerasethakul อภิชาติพงศ์ วีระเศรษฐกุล – also doubles okay for Macau. [The film is a French/Thai co-production.]
After a leisurely warm-up in France, the movie finally gets under way after its move to Asia; but after a reasonable start it soon starts becoming incoherent, with unexplained potholes in the story, an especially outré final half-hour, and an abrupt ending decorated with Mahler’s second and third symphonies. Canadian novelist/cultural commentator Douglas Coupland and Shanghai bad-girl writer Mian Mian 棉棉 are credited as script collaborators. The latter, whose books include Panda Sex 熊猫 (2004), is presumably responsible for the weird chat-up line by Fan’s character, Pansy: “Chris, I’m like a panda… They only have sex once a year. Kind of like me. Like me.”
Fan’s other-worldly beauty survives intact but her command of English is not strong enough, especially to carry over the lines she’s been given in the relatively few scenes she’s in. Among the rest of the Asian cast, Hong Kong singer-actor Lu Guanting 卢冠廷 [Lowell Lo] gets a sizeable role and is okay as a corrupt gambler, but it’s English-educated, Malaysian composer Zhang Zifu 张子夫 [Pete Teo] who contributes the strongest (alas, too few) scenes late on. Overall, a 3/10 movie raised to 4/10 thanks to d.p. Gustavo Habda’s contribution.
[The film has yet to be released theatrically in Chinese-speaking territories, where it is known as 策马.]
Produced by MK2 (FR), Anna Sanders Films (FR), Legend Films (TH).
Script: Charles de Meaux, Douglas Coupland, Mian Mian. Photography: Gustavo Habda, Charles de Meaux. Editing: Guillaume Ledu, Charles de Meaux. Music: Devendra Banhart. Art direction: Chaiyan Chunsuttiwat. Costumes: Sandra Berrebi. Sound: Bruno Ehlinger.
Cast: Nicolas Cazalé (Christophe), Fan Bingbing (Pansy), David Carradine (Monteiro), Nicolas Duvauchelle (Thierry), Lu Guanting [Lowell Lo] (Way Way), John Aryananda (Big John), Zhang Zifu [Pete Teo] (Thong), Cédric Segeon (Cédric), Tul Waitoonkiat (Qi), Sunny Gulati (Kew), Zhang Jiayang [Patrick Teoh] (The Man), M.C. Tam (Macau trainer), Louise Rowlingson (Helen), Irina Lysiuk, Anne Kral, Ashley Morgan, Julia Inamova (dancers), Peetchai Dejkraisak (messenger), James Morrissey, Christopher Choy, Andrew Smith (racing commissioners).
Release: France, 12 Jan 2011; Thailand, tba.
(Review originally published on Film Business Asia, 6 Jul 2011.)