Monday, November 06, 2017

CAFF ’17: The Blood Hound

China could use more forest rangers like Lao Zhu. So could the tragically despoiled Tibet, but we have to settle for stationing one of the few ecologically minded rangers in the Tianshan mountains. He believes in protecting wildlife, but dogs are his true love, perhaps even more than his family. A disgraced former ranger out for revenge will target both in Liu Jianhua’s The Blood Hound (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Chinese American Film Festival in the LA area.

People still eat dog in China’s provinces, but not Lao Zhu. Zhang Biao is a different story. There is already bad blood between them, so when Zhang moonlights poaching rare white wolves, Zhu does not hesitate to call in the constabulary. Unfortunately, Zhang’s arrest hastens a series of misfortunes for his family, all of which he blames on his honest rival. When he is released from prison, he starts killing Zhu’s dogs. However, a scheme out of Titus Andronicus to trick Lao into eating his mutt Rambo falls apart when the wonder dog escapes Zhang’s cronies. Zhang then turns his attention on Zhu’s popular older daughter, but his intentions get more complicated when he ends up falling for her.

Frankly, it is probably good just to have a Chinese film that suggests a little wildlife preservation is not a bad thing. In many ways, Blood Hound looks like an attempt to reverse-engineer a more politically palatable analog of Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Wolf Totem. Just updating the setting from the Cultural Revolution to modern day probably goes a long way. Xia Liu’s screenplay also clearly suggests the People’s Police diligently enforces wildlife protection regulations, which is highly debatable in real life. Regardless, even though cinematographer Ma Deling feasts on the Tianshan vistas, Wolf Totem a much more artistically accomplished film.

In fact, Blood Hound is rather prone to door-slamming family melodrama. It seems like old Zhu is constantly yelling at a family member, up until the ridiculous third act, wherein Rambo basically turns into Lassie. Still, Huang Hong and Liu Xiang-jing are appropriately grizzled and hardnosed as Zhu and Zhang. They promise score-settling a la Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin in Death Hunt, but the film delivers something more like a Hallmark TV movie, with the old grouch and rash poacher learning important life lessons from dogs. As a welcome bonus, the up-and-coming Zhu Lin is also quite engaging as Zhu’s dog-loving younger daughter.

It would be a mistake to dismiss outright a film with as many good intentions as The Blood Hound. There are some impressive performances and you have to appreciate a dog named Rambo. However, it also has more than its share of awkward moments. If you want to see a film that illustrates the man’s predatory encroachment on wolves’ habitat, Wolf Totem is your best choice. Notable more as a curiosity than as significant cinema, The Blood Hound screens tomorrow (11/7) and Wednesday (11/8) as part of this year’s Chinese American Film Festival in Alhambra, CA.