Shades of Ning Hao, Korean action thrillers. Point Break and the Hollywood heist tradition inform the latest in the lingering trend of darkly comic crime pictures from Mainland China in Yang Qing’s Chongqing Hot Pot, which opens the 40th Hong Kong International Film Festival.
Chongqing Hot Pot (Dao Chich) is an entertaining genre mix which delivers a heist story. A romance, comedy and gritty action towards the end. There will probably be those who will be bothered by the fact that the different elements don’t gear into each other flawlessly. But this doesn’t change that the movie is all in all an impressive feat which shows what China is capable of dishing out in the entertainment sector these days.
Furthermore, the movie scores with slick pictures which every now and then even manage to impress with the way they are composed. Also, the story is quite clever and includes a few details that will make you marvel that the director did pay so much attention to them in a film that at first sight merely seems to be very much following the footsteps of directors like Quentin Tarantino or Guy Ritchie.
You will probably feel reminded of those directors. Because Yang Qing has a similar sense of humor and of putting together individual story threads through the use of divine acts or karma. When it comes to karma there are also similarities to Hong Kong cinema present. However, you shouldn’t have any illusions about the film’s ending. China’s censorship naturally forbids any but one outcome. Yet, the extremely bloody showdown manages to excite since the use of knives gives the movie a dark and gritty tone. And this is also what doesn’t really fit to what we got beforehand. In the end, Chongqing Hot Pot wants to to be an entertaining heist comedy after all. Whereas the crooks aren’t really crooks. The absurd, but clever story is ultimately built on humor.
With Bai Baihe (“Monster Hunt”) there is also some romance added to the film. Her love story has something pure to it and because of that is believeable in its own way. Still, it needs to be stressed that despite the time director Yang takes with elaborating the love story or the characters. There are also flashbacks utilized for this purpose. The different personalities remain somewhat colorless in the end. Chen Kun (Tran Khon) actually succeeds in making us start to like the gambler at some point. But his friends are written so shallow that we nearly know nothing about them. With its 98 minutes running time there in fact would have been enough room left to flesh out the characters some more without taxing the viewer’s patience.
Before Chongqing Hot Pot even starts we have to struggle through the mentioning of the great number of production companies that have provided the budget. But what Yang Qing made with it is really presentable. While Yang could already prove his directing chops in his debut work “One Night in Supermarket”. And by doing so managed to hide his incredibly small budget he is allowed to show his visions with a lot more money at hand this time. The rainy Chongqing, the underground restaurant. The bank, the maze-like (again) rainy alleys. All of this looks very nice and a few pictures even manage to outright impress. Moreover, with the multitude of story threads and different genre influences at hand. It’s surprising that the movie works out so well in the end.
Without a doubt, the director clearly holds the movie together with his nice pictures. But it’s also the story that manages to captivate. There are enough twists and even if some of them may be quite apparent in advance. They are still fun. In its core the movie also contains a lot of elements of a heist movie. Including scenes that take place in the imagination of the one’s planning. Yet, everything stays quite original. The unusual plot alone makes sure that’s the case.
The only real negative thing to point out is in fact that the focus on different genres leads to a small breach in tone towards the end. When we believe to be suddenly watching a Hong Kong movie (phim hanh dong hong kong). That in itself may not be a bad thing. But a bit more coherence wouldn’t have hurt this otherwise entertaining flick. Still, you can look forward to Yang Qing’s next work.