Design of Death
PRODS Manfred Wong, Qin Hong, Yang Tengkui, Alan Zhang, Xu Tiejun
SCR Guan Hu, based on a novel by Chen Tiejun
CAM Song Xiaofei
ED Tu Yiran
PROD DES Lin Mu
MUS Dou Peng
PROD CO Stellar Mega Films Ltd.
Chinese comedies today tend to glossy commercial star vehicles designed to train audiences in luxury consumption fantasies. Director Guan Hu couldn’t be more different: his subversively witty black comedies, though thoroughly entertaining, resonate with deeper meanings. Guan probes topics that wouldn’t normally pass Chinese censorship but gets away with it by lacing his movies with comic gusto, Chinese mainstream humour (lots of vigorous physical comedy) and star power.
Audiences who enjoyed director Guan Hu’s previous adventure The Cow (VIFF 09) will be familiar with Guan Hu’s main actor Huang Bo, one of China’s most bankable comic movie stars. Here he plays a trickster, a seemingly indestructible clownish prankster named Niu Jieshi. Niu who is constantly upending the primitive traditions and rituals of Long Life Town, a fantasy place in western Sichuan with a medieval feel (though the film is ostensibly set in the early 1940s). If Niu isn’t peeping on his fellow townspeople’s illicit sexual encounters, he’s rescuing sacrificial maidens or spiking their drinking water with horse aphrodisiac, with predictably orgiastic results. He’s pure id, a 20th-century Monkey King, a spirit of absolute freedom, desire and anarchy. The town’s leaders, naturally, need to get rid of him. Their complex scheme is slowly revealed to us by a visiting medical investigator (HK star Simon Yam). The film unspools its action in a wild swirl of mixed chronologies, with flashbacks within flashbacks. Guan Hu’s camera swoops freely from the roofs to the cisterns of the surreally picturesque setting. But don’t let the frenzied editing and not-so-easy-to-parse narrative get in the way. The film’s abandon, its go-for-broke energy and its irresistible economy of desire are giddy entertainment and more.
— Shelly Kraicer