人潮汹涌 (Ren Chao Xiong Yong)
China, 2021, 119’, Mandarin
Directed by: Rao Xiaozhi
Script: Rao Xiaozhi, Fan Xiang, Li Xiang
Photography (color): Cao Ying
Editing: Yu Ruchang
Art Direction: Shu Xingjia
Costume Design: Liang Tingting
Music: Deng Ouge
Producer: Andy Lau
Production Companies: Artown Film, Emperor Motion Pictures, Rao Xiaozhi Film Studio, Enlight Pictures
Cast: Andy Lau (Zhou Quan), Xiao Yang (Chen Xiaomeng), Wan Qian (Li Xiang), Cheng Yi, Huang Xiaolei, Di Zhijie, Guo Yiqian
Date of First Release in Territory: February 12th, 2021
After the success of A Cool Fish (FEFF 2019), Rao Xiaozhi turns his hand to another black comedy, the second remake of the Japanese film Key of Life (2012) – the first was the Korean Luck Key (2016) – adapting the script to the Chinese market. Rao Xiaozhi writes for both cinema and theatre, he began his theatrical career at the school of the avant-garde author Meng Jinhui – famous for having staged several works by Dario Fo in China – he is a disciple of intellectual giants such as Samuel Beckett and has created a particular genre of black comedy inspired by the theatre of the absurd dubbed “the gentleman’s comedy.” So, even in this remake released during the Chinese New Year to maximise the commercial potential of an entertainment film, Rao has incorporated some elements of greater depth than in the original script foresaw, starting with the film’s title, Endgame – a reference to Beckett’s play of the same name, with all the implications of existential reflection that the theatre of the absurd entails.
Another element that distinguishes Endgame from Rao’s previous works is the presence of a big star, Andy Lau, who is not only one of the two co-stars in the film but he also produced it. The story is very entertaining, especially in the first part, where the two protagonists, a failed actor and a professional assassin, switch identities.
The film opens with the scene of a murder carried out effortlessly by Zhou Quan, a cynical killer who oozes wealth and self-confidence. Chen Xiaomeng, on the other hand, is a naive young actor who seems to fail at everything he tries to do: his career never quite manages to take off, his girlfriend leaves him, he is in debt, and he tries to commit suicide in various ways. But he fails at that too. He finds an old voucher for a spa, decides to go and clean up before attempting suicide again, but gets into trouble there too: while taking a shower, his soap falls on the floor; Zhou Quan, who had gone to the spa to clean the traces of blood left by the last murder, slips on it and faints, and in the confusion Chen swaps the key to his locker in the changing room with Zhou Quan’s, stealing his identity and money.
Zhou Quan, meanwhile, has momentarily lost his memory due to the concussion caused by the accident, and he wakes up in the hospital mistaken for Chen Xiaomeng, whose life – obviously – he remembers nothing of. The two are diametrically opposed – Chen Xiaomeng is childish, impulsive and untidy, while Zhou Quan is thoughtful, meticulous and maniacally tidy – and they must put themselves in each other’s shoes. But while the killer discovers a talent for acting, the actor discovers he doesn’t quite have the killer’s temperament; meanwhile a third character comes into the picture to complicate matters further, a fiery reporter, a single mother who needs a father for her son. Li Xiang approaches the man suffering from amnesia to use his experience for journalistic purposes, but gradually a different bond develops between the two... Meanwhile, the actor pretending to be a ruthless killer has to deal with a demanding client who asks him to dispose of a pregnant woman.
The second half of the film loses some of its initial verve and takes a turn for the sentimental, but the interplay remains interesting until the big dramatic finale in a deserted theatre, with an acting lesson the two leads give each other, which lends itself to various readings – during the film’s production there were rumours of disagreements between Andy Lau and co-star Xiao Yang. There are several quotations from playwrights such as Stanislavski and Peter Brook and cameos by filmmakers, including Frant Gwo and Rao Xiaozhi himself. The arrival of the police at the eleventh hour seems motivated by the usual censorship requirements, but the appearance of the captions before the closing credits detailing the sentences meted out to the various protagonists of the story who are guilty of crimes is decidedly redundant.
Rao Xiaozhi (Guizhou, 1980) graduated in directing from the Central Academy of Drama in 2003. He made his debut as an actor in a play by the famous director Meng Jinhui, and later became his assistant. In 2008, he debuted as a screenwriter and theatre director. In 2014, he directed the “microfilm” Cigarette and Gun. Rao’s first feature film, The Insanity, is the film adaptation of one of his plays. Creator of a genre called “gentleman’s comedy” inspired by the theatre of the absurd, he continues to work in both film and theatre, inspired by authors such as Samuel Beckett and Johnnie To.
2016 – The Insanity
2018 – A Cool Fish
2021 – Endgame