Saturday, February 27, 2010

Devils on the Doorstep

aka Guizi Lai Le
Jen Wiang, 2000, China, bw (9.6*)
Absolutely terrific anti-war satire from China, is one of that country's best films ever, a grand jury prize finalist at Cannes. Wiang proves himself the consummate artist, writing the screenplay, then directing himself as the lead actor, putting himself on a level with Clint Eastwood and Woody Allen.

The story is simple on the surface: in a Chinese coastal village occupied by Japanese naval reserves during WW2, a peasant farmer whose prime concern is making love to his dead brothers' widow, receives a knock in the night (while fulfilling his goal) and is given two Japanese prisoners: a Japanese infantry soldier and his Chinese translator, by a resistance fighter, who instructs him to take care of them until New Year's, and to interrogate them, or he will kill all the villagers. When he doesn't return by that day, the villagers are faced with confusion and a major decision - what follows is a satire of war and moral dilemna, with much humor until the films concluding scenes. Watch for a hilarious scene where the translator has taught the p.o.w. how to curse the ancestors of his guards, as "the Chinese hate insults of their ancestors".

Wiang wisely shot this, beautifully, in black and white, recalling Kurosawa's masterpiece, Seven Samurai. Ironically, this film was banned in China, some say because the Japanese aren't shown as brutal enough, others because Wiang entered the film at Cannes without the government's consent. Whatever the reason, the entire world deserves to see this war mastepiece - there's no other film quite like it from inside or outside of China. Certainly one of that country's best films; only master director Zhang Yimou (Hero, To Live, The Road Home) has equalled this artistry.


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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