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Welcome to Shamatown
Welcome to Shamatown

Sun Hong-Lei welcomes you to Shamatown.
Chinese: 決戰剎馬鎮  
Year: 2010  
Director: Li Weiran  
Producer: Zhuo Shunguo, Lu Yang  
Writer: Zhou Zhiyong, Li Weiran  
Cast: Sun Hong-Lei, Lin Chi-Ling, Lee Li-Chun, Gan Wei, Huang Haibo, Xie Yuan, Baobeier, Ma Jian, Zhou Weitong, Ma Li, Cao Bingkun, Zhao Ziqi, Ma Delin, Zhang Zidong, Zhao Leiqi, Qin Yue, Zhu Yubin
The Skinny: Shamatown welcomes you, but do you really want to visit? This mainland comedy may be too dry and culturally specific for westerners, who require more emotion to get involved. There's wit and smarts here, but not much charm.
by Kozo:

Amusing but also alienating, Welcome to Shamatown may be a little too dry and culturally specific for non-China audiences. From first-time director Li Weiran, Shamatown tells the tale of a remote desert village called Shamatown (duh), with houses constructed of mud and wood, and residents seemingly made of materials that aren't much greater. Shamatown's mayor is Tang Gaopeng (Sun Honglei), a daffy dope who wants his town to become the next trendy tourist locale, and works relentlessly and embarrassingly to achieve his goal. Given the apparent intelligence or common sense of the Shamatown locals, their time might be better spent turning their surplus crop of tomatoes into the world's biggest bruschetta topping.

Getting investors or guests is tough, but Tang accidentally attracts Taiwanese slimeball Zhou Dingbang (Lee Li-Chun), who arrives with his entourage of threatening gang types in hopes of unearthing the hidden treasure of Shamatown. Years before, legendary bandit Hu Shuanzi (also played by Sun Honglei in the prologue) hid his booty somewhere beneath the town, and the bad guys figure they can easily trick the locals out of their land by pretending to be sponsors of their tourism endeavor. Cue 100-plus minutes of screechy slapstick and rapidly-reversing situation comedy as the Shamatown locals first bow to and then man up against their faux benefactors. Who gets the treasure, and who gets tomatoes thrown in their faces? The answers aren't surprising, but the journey offers its share of giggles.

China is rapidly commercializing and citizens are now looking for quick and sometimes shady ways to exploit the growing spending power of their fellow countrymen. Shamatown sends up that cultural dynamic amusingly, but does so with characters that are largely inscrutable to the impatient or untrained eye. Everyone is after Hu's treasure but most act like they're not, leading to a situation where the gangsters and the citizens act one way while really doing something else, usually with an eye on playing their enemies to gain an advantage. The dynamic here is not unlike Let the Bullets Fly and its veiled verbal reversals, except the dialogue and characters there were sharp and cutting, while in Shamatown the multiple layers remain largely buried. Sometimes, one may even wonder if the Shamatown residents are as dumb as they pretend to be.

There's a market for this type of broad yet dry comedy, where familiarity and cultural understanding bridge the gap between the audience and the screen. The problem for us: that market is probably not in the west, where a greater emotional connection is required in a so-called commercial comedy. Shamatown lacks key moments or character development that might help a western audience relate, and could come off as a bit muddled. This doesn't mean that Shamatown is bad; the film actually contains some clever bits, and the satire on neo-capitalist China is well-played. Also, Sun Honglei is a remarkably versatile performer, and remains watchable even when he's playing a seeming half-wit. His onscreen romance with a downplaying-her-beauty Lin Chi-Ling has its charms, though that too is largely underplayed. Given its abstruse content, Welcome to Shamatown might improve upon further viewings. The question then is if a first visit to Shamatown is engaging enough to get you to return for more. (Kozo, Reviewed at the Udine Far East Film Festival, 2011)



DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Kam & Ronson
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Mandarin Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS
Removable English and Chinese subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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image credit: Udine Far East Film Festival Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen