Thursday, November 02, 2017

DFF ’17: Godspeed

Cabbies and drug mules have one thing in common: the mileage. That is particularly true of Old Xu, an expat cab driver originally hailing from Hong Kong. In contrast, Taiwanese Na Dow is new to the drug delivery business and he might not last very long. Their comical road trip periodically takes dark detours in director-screenwriter Chung Mong-hong’s NYAFF-selected Godspeed (trailer here), which screens during this year’s Denver Film Festival.

It figures Na Dow might be in for some trouble, because his boss Da Bao barely survives the extended prologue. Someone is clearly looking to move in on his business, so Da Bao and his lieutenant Wu will discretely follow Na Dow on his latest run. It turns out to be quite ride when the mule reluctantly agrees to the persistent Xu’s terms. Their misadventures will really just confuse their secret shadows, rather than vindicating or condemning Na Dow.

Godspeed veers all over the road, but it still works nearly every step of the way. HK comedy veteran Michael Hui still goes for plenty of laughs, but Old Xu is definitely a sad clown. It is a complex, deeply humane performance that directly compares with Eric Tsang’s even more serious turn in Mad World. Na Dow (as his namesake) is an adequate straight man and he has some nicely turned moments down the stretch, but he is definitely the junior partner of their tandem.

Starting right from the start, Leon Dai nearly steals the picture several times over as the deceptively quiet and amusingly sly Da Bao. Ironically, a lot of viewers will be disappointed when they discover he really isn’t the focus of the film. As an extra added bonus, professional steely Thai authority figure Vithaya Pansringarm does his thing as the drug lord who nearly kills Da Bao, mostly just because he is psychotic.

Chung seems to be a bit like Tarantino in that he has a knack for casting nostalgically beloved actors in roles that help redefine them for younger generations. He did it with Jimmy Wang Yu in the wonderfully subtle and evocative supernatural film Soul and obviously, he did it again here with Hui. While Godspeed is bit plottier and talkier than his previous film, it still very much a work of mature restraint.

The guys who have been around the block a couple times really come through in Godspeed. It is a flattering showcase for Hui’s talents, but Dai, Pansringarm, and even Tou Chung-hua (as Da Bao’s dealer crony) score plenty of points. Despite some sudden tonal shifts, it still keeps purring along, because Chung trusts his characters and never overplays his hand. Recommended for fans of wry caper and road movies, Godspeed screens this Saturday (11/4) and Sunday (11/5) during the 2017 Denver Film Festival.