The Wild Goose Lake
by Brandon Thomas
A vicious fight breaks out between rival gangs. Chairs fly. Knives are pulled. A spectator takes a bite of a pickle. A man has his prosthetic leg pulled from his body.
And this is all within the first 10 minutes of The Wild Goose Lake.
Small-time mobster Zhou Zenong (Hu Ge) finds himself in the spotlight after mistakenly killing a police officer during a turf dispute with another gang. With dozens of police searching for him, and rival gangs looking to collect the bounty on Zhou’s head, he’s forced to team up with a mysterious woman (Gwei Lun-mei) and go on the run.
In the grand tradition of so many other neo-noir films, Wild Goose Lake walks a tightrope of mood and style. Many scenes play out long and with few cuts – drawing out the tension. The maze of buildings, streets and corridors are shot deep in shadows. The visual claustrophobia unsubtly mimics that of the main characters. And when the violence hits – it hits quickly and brutally.
The depiction of violence is where the black humor comes out. There’s more Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson in the violence here than there is Francis Ford Coppola. A killing involving an umbrella had me hooting and clapping my hands in delight. Not to mention the inventive decapitation via forklift.
Hu Ge makes for a stoic lead as Zhou. At the beginning of his story, Zhou is a perfect example of cool, calm, and collected. In the opening fight, he casually dispatches opponents in a flurry of fists and kicks. Sharp contrast to later in the film when Zhou more or less resembles a trapped animal.
Gwei Lun-mei is equally impressive as the standard femme fatale, Liu Aiai. Like any good noir femme fatale, Liu’s motives remain murky at best. Like Zhou, Liu’s resolve begins to crumble as the weight of their situation bears down on her. Gwei does a terrific job of adding subtle layers to Liu.
It’s hard to look at Wild Goose Lake and not be reminded of Fritz Lang’s noir masterpiece M. In M, Peter Lorre famously plays a serial killer hunted by both the police and the criminal underworld. The narrative themes and strong visual cues helped shape the noir genre as we know it today.
By embracing what makes film noir so riveting, Wild Goose Lake manages to satisfy movie lover’s expectations, and sometimes soar above them.