Wednesday, August 02, 2017

AAIFF ’17: Absurd Accident

It’s a distinctly Chinese variant on film noir—the noodle shop noir. This snappy debut, following in the loose tradition of Zhang Yimou’s A Woman, a Gun, and a Noodle Shop and Yong Qing’s Chongqing Hot Pot has all the elements. There is a flirtatious wife, a jealous husband, a jewel heist, and a remote noodle shop inn.  Li Yuhe also pretty much throws in the kitchen sink for his first feature, Absurd Accident (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Asian American International Film Festival.

Everyone is conning someone in this provincial town. Yang Baiwan thinks his wife Ma Lilian is unfaithful, but he is really getting played by bogus doctor of Chinese medicine, who represents himself as the front man for a Triad assassin named “Mr. Marcus.” After Yang slips her a mickey and leaves to establish his alibi, the doctor arrives instead of Mr. Marcus, to start plundering the joint rather than bumping her off. However, when Ma prematurely comes to, she apparently kills her not-so would-be attacker in the ensuing struggle. Now she and the remorseful Yang have a body to dispose of.

Of course, it gets far more complicated. Two armed robbers, a country copper one night away from retirement, a gold-digger, and a clueless gamer she has mistaken for big game all lurch into the picture. The doctor’s body also keeps popping up where it is least expected and sometimes it is not entirely dead. All in all, it turns into an eight-car pile-up where noir intersects with farce.

Li is a little slow out of the blocks setting-up his characters and circumstances, but when Absurd gets going, it takes us off to the races with a high-performance sports car. One-darned-thing-after-another does not adequately describe the film’s gleeful sense of mischief. It is more like half-a-dozen-things-after-the previous-half-dozen-things.

Ye Gao is amazing covering the waterfront as Ma, ranging from shrewishness to vulnerability and finally resting at utter bewilderment. Yet, somehow Suxi Ren manages to go to further extremes as the man-hunting Miss Gu—she is some serious trouble. There is something about Xixu’s performance that counteracts any empathy we might feel for the sad sack Yang, as all the troubles in the world rain down on his stooped shoulders. That’s a good thing, because it lets us enjoy the show without guilt.

Absurd is wonderfully sly and inventive. Li directs the chaotic traffic like an old pro, while the ensemble keeps the dialogue zinging and all the balls in the air, like veterans of vintage Howard Hawks comedies. Very highly recommended, Absurd Accident will be a heck of a good time for all present when it screens tomorrow (8/3) at the New York Asia Society as part of this year’s AAIFF and it opens theatrically next Friday (8/11) in San Francisco, at the 4-Star Lee Neighborhood Theatre.