Sunday, July 07, 2013

NYAFF ’13: An Inaccurate Memoir

Bet you didn’t know Dodge City was once occupied by the Japanese.  Evidently, they took it from the Chinese, but one undercover freedom fighter is determined to take it back in Leon Yang Shu-peng’s An Inaccurate Memoir (trailer here), which screens today as part of the Well Go USA spotlight at the 2013 New York Asian Film Festival.

Ambushed by the Japanese, the wounded Gao Dong-liang lies low in Taiping, a Northern Chinese city that mostly consists of jails and brothels.  After watching Fang You-wang’s gang break their ringleader out of prison with lickety-split efficiency, he starts hatching ideas.  Masquerading as a tempting rich twit, Gao gets himself kidnapped by the Fang gang, subsequently insinuating himself into the gang, after they tire of beating and torturing his uncooperative hide. 

Fang’s younger sister Jen takes a particular shine to him, which the outlaw is not exactly thrilled about.  Aside from Gao, the gang is not keen to tangle with the Japanese, but the Imperial Army forces their hands when they raid the hideout.  Suddenly, Fang is down with Gao’s crazy plan, but he gives it a distinctly bandito spin.

Inaccurate Memoir has already been widely compared to Jiang Wen’s Let the Bullets Fly, but it is less shticky, with more Spaghetti western grit to it.  Yang gets a bit bogged down with Gao’s first act abduction scenes, but once the soldier is part of the gang, Memoir settles down to business with commendable energy.

To its credit, the Fang Gang also boasts an unusually number of strong women members.  Working as a “professional” in town, Lady Dagger is as dangerous as she sounds, while the quiet but violent Lassie follows in the beloved tradition of lethal school girls.  However, the guys in the gang tend to blend together.  (You can tell this will be a problem when the film feels compelled to use on-screen graphics to introduce them to viewers by name.)

Regardless, Yang, the self-taught crash-the-party filmmaker, blows stuff up quite nicely.  Character development may not be his strong suit, but he helms some inventive action sequences and pays proper homage to the Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven/Dirty Dozen tradition, in which a pack of scraggly ruffians ultimately embrace and one-by-one die for a righteous cause.

Huang Xiaoming certainly looks the part of roguish Fang, but Zhang Yi’s Gao is a more multi-faceted character.  Still, Zhang Xinyi, Ni Jingyang, and Zhang Yue often steal the show as Jen, Lady Dagger, and Lassie.

Yang gets a big assist from his production and set designers, who created a richly appointed subterranean hideout.  The film’s eccentric vibe helps soften the requisite Chinese nationalism and anti-Japanese sentiments.  (However, the sheer volume of recent releases waving the bloody WWII shirt could lead to long term image problems for Chinese cinema in the international market place.)  Shrewdly, Yang always keeps the mayhem entertaining.  Recommended for fans of war movies with an eastern western sensibility, An Inaccurate Memoir screens this afternoon (7/7) at the Walter Reade, as part of the Well Go USA spotlight at this year’s New York Asian Film Festival.