A noticeable trend in world cinema in the last three or four years has been to fuse drama with noir elements and here's an excellent example of that fusion from China.
Directed by Wang XiaoShuai (Beijing Bicycle), this is the tale of two men from rural China who come to the city (an unnamed large urban center in mainland China) to seek their fortunes. One, Gao Ping, has a slicker approach to life, needing to make real money--and feels the only way to do that is to work with underworld figures in semi-shady dealings. The other, Dong Zi, sticks to the life he knows best from his native village and works as a "shoulder pole", a laborer who hauls boxes every day for menial wages.
Dong Zi retains his rural ignorance of city ways, but what comes across more than anything else is his complete innocence and straightforwardness. His friend Gao Ping becomes increasingly mired in the dark side of life. This comes to a head when he meets a nightclub singer whom he is sure knows the man owing Gao Ping money. He kidnaps her but the two fall in love--or, as Gao Ping puts it, what passes for love in the city--and ultimately, because she belongs to "the Boss", Gao Ping is a hunted man.
Eschewing the overly stylized approach of countryman Wang Kar Wei, Wang XiaoShuai has made a stronger film. The one obvious concession to style is the use of a green filter for flashback scenes; this works well because aside from the green tint, these scenes include action that is as straightforward as Dong Zi's character.
The constant juxtaposition of innocence and experience is what gives this film its striking emotional power. The singer herself moves from one mindset to the other in the course of the film, emphasizing the theme, and one can even detect minute bits of innocence in Gao Ping, at rare monents, and, towards the end of the film, just as tiny traces of experience in Dong Zi's psychology.
A very well crafted film; recommended.