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Plastic City
Plastic City     Plastic City

(left) Anthony Wong and (right) Jo Odagiri live large in Plastic City.
Chinese: 蕩寇
Year: 2009
Director: Nelson Yu Lik-Wai
Producer: Jia Zhangke, Yuji Sadai, Tsui Siu-Ming
Writer: Fernando Bonassi, Liu Fendou, Nelson Yu Lik-Wai
Cast: Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Jo Odagiri, Huang Yi, Taina Muller, Jeff Chen, Milhem Cortaz, Antonio Petrin
The Skinny: Plastic City starts off decently before becoming mystifying and interminable. Yu Lik-Wai's arthouse crimer has artifice, action and a couple of great actors, but it can't create enough interest to make it all seem worthwhile. Featuring the year's strangest use of parkour.
by Kozo:
Who wants to visit Plastic City? If you're raising your hand to say "me", then consider this your unofficial warning. Hong Kong's Anthony Wong and Japan's Jo Odagiri headline this Brazil-set arthouse drama, which blends elements of popular genre with the sort of pretentious style that makes self-appointed cineastes nod in appreciation. Director and co-writer Yu Lik-Wai (Love Will Tear Us Apart) stuffs Plastic City with plenty of attractive elements; the location, actors and subject matter should all appeal to an international film festival audience. However, after a promising start, the film starts to become muddled, and ultimately wheezes to a mystifying and merciful end. Those looking forward to this film may wish to reduce their expectations, if not nix them entirely.

San Paolo, Brazil. Chinese-Brazilian businessman Yuda (Anthony Wong) has been at the top of the illegal merchandise game for a while, earning the title "King of Pirated Goods". Helping him is his adopted son Kirin (Jo Odagiri), who was orphaned years ago when his parents were killed in the jungle. However, Yuda suffers a conspicuous fall; his peers are apparently tired of backing him because he's pinched by the cops (who are supposed to be on the criminals' payroll) and thrown in jail. Meanwhile, suave foreign businessman Mr. Taiwan (Jeff Chen) seeks to grab a share of San Paolo's lucrative illegal goods industry using his newer piracy methods. Neither Yuda nor Kirin is too thrilled about this, as they're proud of their old fashioned piracy business, but Yuda has more immediate problems, like inmates in jail trying to stab him in the shower. Kirin tries to bargain for Yuda's release, using occasionally violent means, but few people are willing to cooperate.

There are personal issues, too. Yuda is in a longtime relationship with Ocho (Crystal Huang Yi), though she may have some minor attraction to Kirin, while Kirin has a stripper-prostitute girlfriend (Taina Muller) who is looking to leave the biz and reunite with her long-lost son. As things get worse for Yuda, Kirin takes matters into his own hands, and proceeds to beat and kill various antagonists before rallying his local gang for payback an event conveyed to the audience through a sequence where the kids perform kickass and completely nonsensical parkour moves. There's also an over-the-top 300-like gang fight that takes place on a cement platform raised high above the city, complete with CG blood and slow motion screaming from a Menacing Bad Guy™. Meanwhile, Yuda joins a local tribe, Ocho and Kirin share a possible moment of intimacy, and there's a flood. The actual film makes about as much sense as this plot description.

Somehow all of these details are supposed to matter, and Yu Lik-Wai communicates his meaning through portentous dialogue, silent navel-gazing and an abundance of unexplained details that go nowhere. Yu and co-writers Fernando Bonassi and Liu Fendou (of last year's similarly pretentious Ocean Flame) offer elaborate situations and copious themes in their screenplay, with some details (e.g., the conflict between Yuda and Mr. Taiwan's piracy businesses) seeming unique and promising. However, the narrative never really takes off, leaving the whole enterprise somewhat rudderless. Also, the actors don't create interesting characters. Both Anthony Wong and Jo Odagiri treat their roles professionally, but neither of these acclaimed actors makes his character into one worth caring about, and Yu Lik-Wai and his co-writers don't help very much either. Characters are introduced and then disappear, subplots are created and dropped, and overall little impact is felt. This is where the word "boredom" comes into play.

That's not to say that things don't happen in Plastic City. Serious and even deadly events do occur, but it's difficult to find any purpose in the film's narrative. Yu Lik-Wai seems to focus on the father-son relationship between the two leads, with the film's final moment implying some profound understanding or closure between the two. However, Yu doesn't do the basic minimum needed to convey that, as he can't get the conflicts or characters to resonate. His details are intriguing, but the film doesn't elucidate their implied meaning in an effective way. For example, when Yuda first meets the young Kirin, he spies a rare white tiger in the Brazilian jungle. The tiger shows up later midway through the film, before disappearing and showing up again to help bring the film to its end. What does the tiger mean? Probably something, but the film is so uninteresting in its development that parsing that meaning never seems worth the time.

Ultimately, Plastic City qualifies as a well-intentioned misfire, taking lots of intriguing elements and ultimately doing little with them. At least the cinematography is good, if not a tad cloying in that "this movie is set in South America" kind of way. Director of Photography Lai Yiu-Fai (Infernal Affairs and, uh, L For Love, L For Lies) has apparently studied Wong Kar-Wai's Happy Together, because he gives Plastic City that same grungy and over-the-top saturated color look. Actually, Lai Yiu-Fai was a crew member on Happy Together and even served as the namesake for Tony Leung Chiu-Wai's character. Neat, huh? The above six-degrees-of-Hong-Kong-Cinema trivia is completely and totally irrelevant, but really, it may be more interesting than Plastic City itself. (Kozo 2009)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Kam and Ronson
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
International Language Track (Portugeuse, English, Mandarin)
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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image credit: Hong Kong Film Development Council Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen