Director Diao Yinan gives the film the noir treatment with a close, almost claustrophobic feel. The focus is tight on the characters and their grimy environment, with Diao purposefully avoiding wide vistas or open landscape shots.
Wild Goose Lake is China on the margins: not quite urban, not quite rural, a shanty-town atmosphere peopled by a criminal underclass and those generally down on their luck. When the local gang’s plan to ride into town and steal as many bikes as possible goes wrong, Zhou Zenong (Hu Ge) finds himself on the run, with the police only part of his worries.
Diao’s film borrows unashamedly from the playbook of fellow Chinese director Wong Kar-wai, with exquisite framing of shots and enough colour splashes to keep things interesting. His use of rain as a motif also mirrors Wong, but that’s no bad thing.
There are a couple of quick, gruesome scenes, easily warranted given the storyline of merciless petty thieves and ne’er-do-wells.
Taiwanese actor Kwei Lun Mei plays a pivotal role as Liu Aiai, a sex worker who plies her trade as one of Wild Goose Lake’s “bathing beauties”. When she’s assigned to Zhou in a plot to turn him in for the reward money, a relationship, of sorts, develops between the two. But Zhou is quietly, stubbornly stoic. The enigmatic man of few words. The classic noir anti-hero.
Zhou’s estranged wife (Regina Wan) gets drawn into events, but her dealings with the flood of plain-clothes detectives weaving through their lives only complicates matters.
There are a number of delightfully unexpected moments in Wild Goose Lake, and even a late ’70s disco hit makes a surprising appearance. Diao’s film is carefully crafted to keep you guessing until the end, a solid testament to his shift from accomplished screenwriter to acclaimed director.
Wild Goose Lake is screening at the Mercury Cinema at 6pm on October 20 and November 3. This year’s OzAsia film festival will feature more than 20 films, with the full program available here.