Zhang Yimou’s newest film– his 25th feature film depending, on what you count*– opens with one of the great shots of his career: a one or two-minute bird’s eye view oner tracking a group of Song dynasty soldiers in 1146 CE running through an maze-like corridor on a royal military compound, occasionally shielded by perfectly architecturally placed triangle roofs that vertically bridge across the horizontal corridor the soldiers are marching through. Colored muted blue and grey, the shot lowers and follows the soldiers closer as their panic is now shielded from the camera by a decorative fence. Even by Zhang’s standards, one of the great cinematographic eyes working today, it’s something special.
Which makes the comedy that almost immediately follows all the more fascinating. It’s not his first comedy– that would be A Woman, a Gun, and a Noodle Shop (2009, a remake of the Coen Brothers’ 1984 film Blood Simple)– but I didn’t expect a funny film to follow such a manic and kinetic opening. Funny as it is, I’m also not sure it is a comedy…strictly speaking. The jokes recede as the mystery at the film’s center unravels, and, a little over halfway, Full River Red certainly feels more like the film the opening promised: a serious, political who-dunnit.
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