Wind Blast 西風烈
2010, colour, 2.35:1, 117 mins
Directed by Gao Qunshu (高群書)
By Derek Elley
Mon, 22 November 2010, 23:16 PM (HKT)
Dusty, desert-set action movie is drained by a scrappy script and lack of cumulative drama or tension. Genre events, plus some ancillary.
Hong Kong, the present day. Desperate for money to prove himself to his girlfriend Sun Jing (Charlie Young) after being cheated in business, Zhang Ning (Xia Yu) accepts a commission to shoot a man but also takes a picture on his mobile phone of the man who hires him. After killing his target, Zhang flees back to the Mainland. A year later, a pursuit team of four crack detectives from Hunan — leader Xiang Xi (Duan Yihong), sharpshooter He Jianzhong (Ni Dahong), young martial arts expert Yang Xiaoming (Wu Jing) and strongman Han Chaodong (Zhang Li) — have traced Zhang to a mining company in the deserts of northwest China, near Dunhuang, Gansu province, where he's reunited with Sun, now pregnant. After a pursuit, they arrest both of them. At the same time, veteran hitman Mai Gao (Francis Ng) and his younger associate Anuo (Yu Nan), grand-daughter of his martial arts teacher, arrive on an assignment to get hold of the incriminating photo and kill Zhang. That night they kidnap Zhang and take him to a hidden cave once used by bandits. It's the start of a deadly game of cat-and-mouse between the four detectives and the two hired killers, as each side fights over Zhang and his girlfriend.
All the visual sweep that director GAO Qunshu 高群書 brought to his period spy whodunit The Message 風聲 (2009) is also evident in Wind Blast 西風烈 (2010), which swaps the studio-bound look of the previous film for the wide open spaces of one entirely shot on location. Though it's pretty difficult not to come up with striking work when shooting around Dunhuang, in northwest China, and though the landscape there has hardly been under-used by Chinese filmmakers, the widescreen photography by d.p. DU Jie 杜傑 (Crazy Stone 瘋狂的石頭 (2006), A Tale of Two Donkeys 走著瞧 (2008)) still makes great use of the desolate desert and dusty, deserted gulleys, creating a hostile no-man's-land that's both vast and intimate, with people constantly bumping into each other round the next bend. The problems with Wind Blast lie elsewhere: in some of the other technical aspects, in some of the performances, and most of all in the script.
Gao's previous films — Tokyo Trial 東京審判 (2006), Old Fish 千鈞一髮 (2007) and The Message — were all anchored in relatively strong scripts; Wind Blast, by Gao himself, has almost no script at all. On a first viewing the initial 20 minutes are very confusing — and not in a good, tension-building way — as the film plays around with various genres like spaghetti westerns and U.S. road movies, takes time out with an episode simply to showcase WU Jing 吳京's martial arts skills, and has clumps of taciturn dialogue that only make some sense much later. Things settle down, and characters become a little more defined, at the half-hour mark with a well-staged, 12-minute sequence of a night attack on the detectives' camp; but as things progress, and the six leads are shuffled around from action setpiece to action setpiece, the lack of any real plot or backgrounding becomes more and more evident. Even on a genre level, these are unlikable characters the audience couldn't care about one bit.
With so few dramatic underpinnings, the movie's final half-hour, which involves a switch of location to a ramshackle police station (and a mysterious change in the weather, with snow that comes and goes from shot to shot), is a long hawl to a disappointing finale. The script simply runs out of ideas as it goes along, finally throwing in a stampede of horses for no discernible reason. Throughout, the action staged by Jackie Chan Stunt Team member Nicky LI 李忠志 is okay-to-good, but let down by less-than-precise editing; and the music score, which could have papered over some of these technical weakenesses, lacks atmosphere, any kind of consistency and real excitement.
The best performances come from NI Dahong 倪大紅, as a grizzled old sharpshooter, and DUAN Yihong 段奕宏 as the policemen's fleet-footed leader, running hither and thither across the landscape. Apart from his opening setpiece, Wu Jing is under-used, and XIA Yu 夏雨's character, as the main reason for all the hijinks, is weakly drawn. Hong Kong's Francis NG 吳鎮宇 (who appears not have been re-voiced, to judge from his strongly accented Mandarin) isn't really believable or threatening enough as a super-hitman, and Mainlander YU Nan 余男 (in her first action role) becomes less so as the film wears on, with little to do except look nasty.
Billing itself as China's first crime-action-western — and stealing a march on NING Hao 寧浩's long-delayed, similarly-set action feast No Man Land 無人區 (2009) — Wind Blast passes the time on an undemanding level but is disappointing in light of the talent involved. The Chinese title means West Wind Martyrs, playing on the more expected use of East Wind in the title.
ContactSales: Media Asia, Hong Kong (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Theatrical release: China, 28 Oct 2010.
Presented by United Power Media (CN), Huayi Brothers Media (CN), Ya Huan Media Investments (CN), Beijing United Mighty Movie & Culture (CN), Zhejiang Golden Globe Pictures (CN), Dongchuan International Media (Beijing) (CN). Executive producers: Zheng Xin, Wang Zhongjun, Wei Yonggang, Xu Jiaxuan, Fu Binxing, Liu Tao. Producers: Gao Qunshu, Deng Xin, Wang Zhonglei, Guan Yadi, Barbara Xu.
Script: Gao Qunshu. Photography: Du Jie. Music: An Dong. Production design: Xiao Haihang. Stylist: Han Yeong-jin. Sound: Liu Linzong. Action: Nicky Li.
Cast: Duan Yihong ("Leopard", Captain Xiang Xi), Ni Dahong ("Mastiff", He Jianzhong), Wu Jing ("Shepherd", Yang Xiaoming), Zhang Li ("Yak", Han Chaodong), Francis Ng (Mai Gao), Yu Nan (Anuo), Xia Yu (Zhang Ning), Charlie Young (Sun Jing), He Tiehong (Chang Zhongjian, the blacksmith), Ma Guowei (bureau chief), Zhang Yibai (assassinated man).