Film Scouts Diaries

1995 Montreal Film Festival Diaries
Montreal Diary #3

by David Sterritt

August 27, 1995

It's taken three whole days for logistics here to break down, but yesterday was not a happy one for a critic with a schedule to keep. I arrived at the Parisien to discover that the print for Gregg Araki's film "The Doom Generation" hadn't shown up, so I scooted over to the Imperial for "Warrior Lanling," which started about ten minutes late, and then barely made it back to the Parisien in time for the scheduled screening of "Chungking Express," which began almost 30 minutes late.

All's well that ends well, though. Araki's no-show left me with an all-Asian day that was nicely capped off by a couple of hours with Zhang Yimou, the greatest of today's Chinese filmmakers, at the dinner for Gerard Depardieu last night. Zhang's highly entertaining "Shanghai Triad" arrives here shortly, and should head the must-see list of everyone who hasn't caught it yet. Next month it opens the New York Film Festival, and will then proceed to theaters, where its "Godfather"-like excitement should bring it success with gangster-genre lovers everywhere.

I was eager to catch up with "Chungking Express" since I missed it at the New York festival last year, and after my five years as a programmer of that event, I know the selection-committee members wouldn't choose a Hong Kong action thriller if there weren't some heavy cinematic merits going for it. Sure enough, Wong Kar-wai's hyperactive melodrama is extraordinarily inventive in both sights and sounds, telling the sardonic stories of two lovelorn cops with a level of visual energy you don't encounter very often. I'm not as quick to excuse the film's narrative confusions as many of my fellow critics are, and it's a pretty shallow picture, too, with little substance beyond its vague suggestions that our fractured urban world is producing fractured urban personalities and relationships. Still, as sheer cinema it's lively and imaginative all the way through. Quentin Tarantino has picked the movie up for distribution by his newly formed releasing outfit, and it takes about two seconds to figure out why Wong's explosive style would appeal so much to him.

"Warrior Lanling," shown in competition, is equally offbeat but a lot less engaging. I had a long talk with filmmaker Sherwood Xuehua Hu at a dinner on Friday night, before I saw his movie, and he showed a lot of fascination with the roots of theater and cinema in ancient rites and rituals - a clear influence on his film, which uses a schematic and deliberative style to tell its myth-like tale of a warrior whose fortunes are inseparable from the magic mask that hides his sensitive features and enhances his destructive potency. But while the movie is beautifully shot, as are most Chinese productions I've seen in recent years, its avant-garde structure comes off as more pretentious than powerful. Sherwood needs to digest his theoretical ideas more thoroughly, and integrate them more fully with the emotional elements that also play a part in his storytelling. The most interesting aspect of "Warrior Lanling" is the ripe amorality of its narrative, worked out through characters who are closer to legendary archetypes than to conventional dramatic-psychological figures. Sherwood shows impressive audacity in grappling with such material, and with more seasoning he may yet emerge as a filmmaker to be reckoned with.

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