Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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CHUNG MONG-HONG: GODSPEED (2016) - NYAFF

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NA DOW AND MICHAEL HUI IN GODSPEED

A Taiwanese riff on the edge of noir

A young Taiwanese drug mule (Na Dow) has his foolproof smuggling method thrown out of whack when he catches a ride with the wrong cab driver, in this caper starring veteran Hong Kong comic Michael Hui, here playing a long time Taiwan resident and cabbie who insists on taking him even though he's already been driving all night.

As an Edinburgh Festival viewer of this film said, "Godspeed walks a weird line between violent gangster bloodshed and buddy comedy that doesn’t always work." It's a strange hybrid for which the word "Tarantinoesque" is a shade too generous. But there are eccentric, highly specific incidents. A Thai gangster is taunted by his Chinese associate for keeping his long sofa covered in its original protective plastic coating for ten years. So they take it of, and the owner proudly chortles over how like new it is. The cabbie stops to get food, and it turns out the line isn't for a restaurant but a gangster funeral. They are forced to go in and pay a donation.

The drug mule is notable for his laziness. He got the job merely by answering an ad. And instead of arranging a carefully planned, secure form of transportation, he just takes cabs back and forth to carry the drugs the whole way from one end of the country to another.

In festivals this film has been billed as a "dark comedy," but it is more accurate to call it "a crime drama with moments of levity." Uglier scenes featuring crime bosses that alternate with the road trip carry the greater sense of action: the trip itself verges on a Beckettian futility, alternating with serious mishaps. This is good material for the actors, potentially, at least - but the filmmaker has not quite got his mix of genres in good balance. Nice ending, though, turning this into the kind of lived-in buddy picture this has always aspired to; and the tech aspects are fine. Delicate use of mandolin music adds a pleasantly sentimental note to a very unsentimental, deadpan movie.

Godspeed / 路順風 (Yi lu shun feng), 111 mins. debuted at Toronto Sept. 2016, also at Vancouver, Tokyo, Taipei, Buenos Aires, Seattle, Edinburgh, Bucheon. Reviewed here for NYAFF, showing 1 pm July 16 at the Walter Reade Theater.

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