A Warner China Film HG Corp. (in China)/Focus Films (in H.K.) release of a Warner China Film HG Corp., Concord Creation Intl. Beijing Co. (China)/Focus Films (H.K.) presentation of a Beijing Frontline Prod. production. (International sales: Focus, H.K.) Produced by Yang Buting, Zhou Lin, Daniel Yu. Executive producers, Zhao Haicheng, Yi Shah, Yu.
Directed by Ning Hao. Screenplay, Zhang Cheng, Yue Xiaojun, Ning. camera (color, widesereen, HD-to-35mm), Du Jie; editor, Du Yuan; music, Funky Sueyoshi, Yuan Yi; art directors, Zhang Xiaobing, Li Yading; costume designer, Zuo Shi; sound (Dolby SR), Wang Yanwei; technical advisor, Sheng Zhimin; special effects director, Zhang Yang; associate producers, Lorna Tee, Hon Hang; assistant directors, Li Kai, Wang Yibing, Ma Long. Reviewed at Paradise Warner 1, Shanghai, June 19, 2006. Running time: 105 MIN.
With: Guo Tao, Liu Hua, Huang Bo, Yue Xiaojun, Teddy Lin, Hou Shu, Chen Zhenghua, Peng Bo, Wang Xun, Xu Zheng, Wang Jianing.
(Mandarin, Chongqing dialect)
Gruff Mainland humor gets a zippy Hong Kong-style makeover in the slick and densely scripted caper comedy "Crazy Stone." Ensemble crimer about various petty thieves trying to steal a jade pendant is the first by a Mainland director--and best entry yet--in Hong Kong-based Focus Film's HD series, First Cuts. Surprise is that the helmer is Ning Hao, previously known for arty festival fare "Incense" and "Mongolian Ping Pong," but there's no trace of the observational lingering of those pictures in this zippy mix, which immediately raises the bar for commercial Mainland filmmaking.
Initial release by joint venture distrib Warner China Film HG debuted June 30, and heisted a happy 6.5 million yuan ($800,000) in its first two frames, fine for a modestly budgeted local pic with no major stars. Irony is that, offshore, many fests that showed Ning's two previous features may think twice before taking this rambunctious, scatalogical crimer--a shame, as this audience-pleaser works best on a bigscreen rather than homevid.
Setting is the mist-wreathed metropolis of Chongqing, on the banks of the Yangtze River in central China where, in a rundown factory, a green jade pendant worth lotsa money is accidentally dug up. Factory head Xie (Chen Zhenghua), under pressure to sell his site to a Hong Kong developer, decides to hold an exhibition based around the stone. He hires ex-cop Bao Shihong (Guo Tao) to handle security.
Meanwhile, different parties--whose paths cross in elaborate ways--aim to relieve Xie of the stone. There's petty criminal Dao (Liu Hua), and his dumb associates Xiaojun (Yue Xiaojun) and Hei Pi (Huang Bo); there's even Xie's own son, philandering photog Charles (Peng Bo), who switches the stone for a cheap fake in order to romance the trashy Jingjing (Hou Shu), who's actually Dao's woman; and there's a slick professional thief hired by the H.K. property developer.
Using a slightly exaggerated visual style, and restless editing often accompanied by swish-wipes, Ning keeps the tempo lively--and also requires his audience to pay attention to the extremely complex plot, which involves multiple switcheroos and keeping track of characters in various places at the same time. One especially neat trick is showing an event (such as a cat' crash) and then replaying it from the points of view of different characters involved.
Surprise is that the visual antsiness doesn't pall--partly because the plot keeps springing fresh twists right up to the final scene, and partly because the more rugged style of Mainland acting keeps the film grounded far more than in a comparable H.K. production. Humor is largely physical and situational, and doesn't depend on linguistic tropes in the thickly accented regional dialogue.
Guo carries the movie as the dedicated but doubt-plagued Bao, and the rest of the ensemble melds smoothly under Ning's direction, with little obvious overacting. Most post-production was done in Hong Kong, and transfer to 35mm widescreen, though obvious, looks OK on the bigscreen.