Guns and Roses 黃金大劫案
Period action comedy-drama
2012, colour, 2.35:1, 110 mins
Directed by Ning Hao (寧浩)
By Derek Elley
Mon, 04 June 2012, 09:15 AM (HKT)
Busy but uneven heist movie by Ning Hao, set in '30s Manchuria under the Japanese. Asian and genre events.
A city in Japanese-occupied Manchuria, mid/late 1930s. Impoverished thief and amateur magician Xiao Dongbei (Lei Jiayin), 28, from Taiyuan, is arrested by the police after stealing some money from the collection box of the local priest (Fan Wei). Temporarily imprisoned, he's put in the same cell as Bai Murong (Sun Chun), an anti-Japanese revolutionary who was arrested in a cinema after receiving a message from a fellow revolutionary (Huang Bo). Xiao Dongbei steals his shoes and in them later finds the message: "The gold will arrive on the 10th at Yamato Bank." Xiao Dongbei is then kidnapped by a group of revolutionaries, led by film actress Fang Die (Tao Hong), and forced to reveal the contenst of the message. Fang Die tells him the 8 tons of gold will be used by the Japanese to buy weapons from the Italians, in a deal to be signed by visiting Italian ambassador DeNiro (Jean-Michel Casanovas). The revolutionaries, all working as film-makers, decide to steal it on its way to the bank. Xiao Dongbei is eventually taken on as Fang Die's driver but almost compromises a mission one night when the gang tries to steal the map of the gold convoy from the home of bank president Gu Xianming (Yang Xinming), a Chinese collaborator. Later, Xiao Dongbei redeems himself by getting the map after he by chance saves Gu's daughter, Xixi (Cheng Yuanyuan), during an air raid. As the revolutonaries are all film-makers, they decide to use some movie artifice during the hijacking of the convoy. They successfully make off with the gold, but Japanese security chief Toriyama Konosuke (Yamazaki Keiichi) is hot on their trail after Xiao Dongbei's greed gets the best of him.
Ning Hao's first released film in three years — the intervening No Man Land 無人區 (2009), a violent action-adventure set in Xinjiang, having been refused a certificate by SARFT — Guns and Roses 黃金大劫案 finds the 35-year-old director in somewhat mellower mood than in his previous caper comedies Crazy Stone 瘋狂的石頭 (2006) and Crazy Racer 瘋狂的賽車 (2008), though the film has the same kind of black humour, rough northern wit, twisty-turny plotting, and exaggerated characters. Apart from being Ning's first period movie, and with a much more regular studio-style look, the major difference from his Crazy comedies is the pacing, which is much less frantic, and the underlying message that greed is not good when the country's well-being is at stake.
Simply by having LEI Jiayin 雷佳音 — a good-looking, 28-year-old TV actor — instead of goofy regular HUANG Bo 黃渤 play the main character of a money-obsessed petty thief, Guns becomes a much less manic movie. And though the plot has plenty of incident and reversals, it doesn't have the same kind of complex, corkscrew construction as the earlier two films — or, alas, their holding power.
In fact, in its early stages, Guns looks like being a fun but pretty conventional gold-heist movie set during the Japanese occupation of Manchuria in the mid/late '30s. In its well-constructed first half-hour the script (credited to six writers, including Hong Kong's James YUEN 阮世生) gradually steers the lead, amoral thief Xiao Dongbei, towards the kernel of the plot as it carefully sets up supporting characters who will come into play later: a local priest, dryly played by comedian FAN Wei 范偉; Xiao Dongbei's crazed father, a onetime Boxer Rebellion hero who still has a pigtail (GUO Tao 郭濤, unrecognisable from Crazy Stone); their appalling landlady; a corrupt police chief (LIU Hua 劉樺, wittily stone-faced); and so on. There's even a cameo from Huang, in a sequence set in a cinema which lays a seed for the subsequent appearance of the film-making revolutionaries once the main plot of the gold heist finally moves into view.
Thereafter, however, the script loses its control. For a start, the idea of having the revolutionaries' leader a well-known actress and her accomplices a travelling crew of film-makers is never properly developed. TAO Hong 陶虹 (A Beautiful New World 美麗新世界 (1998), Unfinished Girl 第三個人 (2007)) gives her role the full hard-bitten movie star bit but doesn't get enough later scenes to flesh out her character, and her crew remains largely anonymous. That's partly a result of the plot being so busy from thereon, with the ups-and-downs and other characters (including a Japanese security chief, leeringly played by YAMAZAKI Keiichi 山崎敬一, and CHENG Yuanyuan 程媛媛 as a collaborationist's cutie daughter) all bustling for a place in the running-time.
The actual robbery takes place around the hour mark, with at least another half-hour after that of more plot and a grand finale which introduces yet more people. Ning and his writers haven't mastered the trick of drawing involving characters and mood alongside a busy plot — something which made another anti-Japanese caper An Inaccurate Memoir 匹夫 (released the same day) so enjoyable, though a much smaller earner at the box-office.
The film is at its best in more intimate, two-handed scenes (such as Lei and Fan) and splashy action sequences (like the finale); in sequences between these two extremes, the movie often lacks forward momentum, and the second half, in general, doesn't seem sure where to throw the dramatic emphasis. Individual gags, however, are generally inventive — especially one involving a way to hide out in a church from pursuing Japanese, and another involving Xiao Dongbei's wandering hands at a dinner-party. Throughout, Lei, in his first leading role on the big screen, is impressive, with an easy, likeable innocence that contrasts with the rougher types who surround him.
Widescreen photography by ZHAO Fei 趙非 (Let the Bullets Fly 讓子彈飛 (2010)) is more richly appointed in interiors than exteriors. Editing supervised by CHEUNG Ka-fai 張嘉輝 (one of several Hong Kongers on the technical side) is fine. However, the choice of classical music for some scenes seems bizarre: Khachaturian's Sabre Dance for an air raid, Vivaldi's Four Seasons for a tragic moment, and Chinese opera music for the action finale. The Chinese title simply means The Gold Robbery.
ContactSales: Galloping Horse, Beijing (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Theatrical release: China, 24 Apr 2012.
Presented by Beijing Galloping Horse Film (CN), Dongyang Yingyue Film Production (CN), Ning Hao Film Workshop (CN). Executive producers: Li Ming, Yang Qi. Producers: Johnson Sun, Li Li, Guo Yan, Ning Hao.
Script: Xing Aina, Yue Xiaojun, He Ruirui, Wang Hongwei, Zheng Xiaoyang, James Yuen. Photography: Zhao Fei. Editing: Cheung Ka-fai, Li Dianshi, Yin Zhe, Qiao Aiyu. Music: Nathan Wang, Jiang Yonghui. Production design: Second Chan. Art direction: Jeffrey Kong. Costumes: Qiu Duofeng. Styling: Ivan. Sound: Liu Yang, Yang Jiang, Zhao Nan. Visual effects: Xu Jian, Wei Ming (Me Video). Action: Shim Jae-won, Yang Gil-yeong, Sang Lin.
Cast: Lei Jiayin (Xiao Dongbei/"Little Northeast"), Tao Hong (Fang Die), Cheng Yuanyuan (Gu Xixi), Yamazaki Keiichi (Toriyama Konosuke), Guo Tao (Golden Dart 13, Xiao Dongbei's father), Fan Wei (priest), Sun Chun (Bai Murong), Liu Hua (Wu Ge/Brother No. Five, chief of police), Huang Bo (revolutionary in cinema), Kitaoka Ryuki (Shinemon), Li Cantian (Wu, the producer), Nie Mao (Xiao, the best boy), Dong Lifan (Jin, Xiao Dongbei's landlady), Fu Heng (Wide-Angle Zheng, the cameraman), Yue Xiaojun (Shu, the scriptwriter), Wang Wen (Mu, the director), Hatae Kiyoshi (General Yokomichi, Japanese commander), Yang Xinming (Gu Xianming, Yamato Bank manager), Zhang Songwen (Pu Xiaotong, Xixi's fiance), Jiang Yongjun (Hei Lao Er, the bandit), Yang Shuo (Hei Lao Da, bandit leader), Yuan Xibei, Chen Xiaohao (child beggars), Xu Jian (detective), Ning Hao, Yan Lai (policemen), Zhao Xingyu (flower girl), Liu Jiadong (old man), Jia Long (middle-aged man), Huang Yiyi (girl on stage), Second Chan, Takashima Shinichi (drunken Japanese soldiers), Muramatsu Shigeru, Kumazaki Shota (gold lorry drivers), Katsura Ginjiro (Japanese soldier), Akiyama So (gold lorry soldier), Marumoto Norio (Japanese soldier), Jean-Michel Casanova (DeNiro, Italian ambassador), Hikita Go (DeNiro's translator), Jiang Zhigang, Dai Yishu (MCs).