Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
SIFF ’15: A Coffin in the Mountain
the residents of a provincial Henan village, the local mountain is like their
East River. It is a handy place to dump a body. Nobody asks too many questions
when a newly charred corpse pops up, perhaps because everyone is complicit in something
during the course of Xin Yukun’s A Coffin
in the Mountain (trailer
which screens at the 2015 Seattle International Film Festival.
Weiguo is an oddity—a village chief who never sought to profit from his
position. His semi-estranged son Xiao Zongyao finds that hopelessly
old-fashioned. His visit home has been awkward as usual. However, he is looking
forward to an assignation with his on-again-off-again girlfriend, at least
until she drops the pregnancy bomb. To make matters worse, local lowlife Bai Hu
overhears their conversation. When he threatens to inform Xiao’s father, things
get a little rough. At least they were already on the mountain, so they will
not have to travel far to dump the body.
Li Qin tries to convince her lover, Wang Baoshan to kill her abusive degenerate
of a husband, Chen Zili. Apparently somebody did the deed, but probably not the
self-centered Wang. Regardless, Li Qin is not about to look a gift horse in the
mouth. Of course, nothing is as obvious as it first appears as Xin’s braided
stories overlap, intersect, and refer back.
Coffin looks like a
depressing Chinese indie, but it is really a wickedly droll, blackly comic noir
in the tradition of early Cohen Brothers. By now, the nonlinear narrative
gimmick has been done to death and usually done poorly, but Xin and
co-screenwriter Feng Yuanliang make it look fresh and insidiously clever. It is
a pleasure to watch Xin smoothly fit his pieces together. Yet, the film is so
matter-of-factly understated, it often takes a beat or two for the audience to
realize they have had the rug pulled out from under them again.
there are no big names to speak, the entire cast is dynamite, particularly Sun
Li as Li Qin, the working class Chinese equivalent of Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity. However, as Xiao
Weiguo, Huo Weiman steals the film outright in the third act with his slow
burning intensity and quickly escalating frustration. As he pulls his hair out
in exasperation, we just have to shake our heads in appreciation for Xin’s
twisty and twisted gamesmanship.
This is a terrific film that consistently
confounds expectations right from the start. It should herald the discovery a
refreshingly original filmmaker and at least half a dozen new talents in front
of the camera. Very highly recommended, The
Coffin in the Mountain screens this Saturday (5/16), Monday (5/18), and Thursday
(5/21) at this year’s SIFF.
Labels: Chinese Cinema, SIFF '15