无名 (Wu Ming)
China, 2023, 132’, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese
Directed by: Cheng Er
Screenplay: Cheng Er
Photography (color): Cai Tao, Liao Wei
Editing: Cheng Er
Art Direction: Sun Li
Sound: Wang Chong, Yang Zhaoyue
Theme Song: Cheng Er, Li Zhaohui
Action: Chen Chao
Visual Effects: Wang Xiaowei
Producers: Yu Na, Qu Ji Xiaojiang
Production Companies: Polybona Films, Cutting Edge Pictures
Cast: Tony Leung Chiu-wai (Director He), Wang Yibo (Mr. Ye), Zhou Xun (Ms. Chen), Huang Lei (Mr. Zhang), Yiroyuki Mori (Officer Watanabe), Dong Chengpeng (Minister Tang), Eric Wang (Captain Wang), Jiang Shuying (Ms. Jiang), Zhang Jingyi (Ms. Fang)
Date of First Release in Territory: January 22nd, 2023
Cheng Er (Lethal Hostage, FEFF 2013) has a very personal directing style and a refined and sensual aesthetic vision, even when depicting the most extreme violence. His films are mainly thrillers marked by a relentless narrative tension. The most recent, produced by the Chinese major Polybona – the third chapter of their so-called “China Victory Trilogy” alongside the films Chinese Doctors and The Battle at Lake Changjin of 2021 – is set in Japanese-occupied China during WWII, where communists, nationalists and the Japanese fought to conquer not only the land but also the soul of the Chinese people. The film's propaganda message is to show how acts of extraordinary bravery by ordinary citizens can change the direction of history.
From a formal point of view, the film is an extremely fascinating noir, but the narrative is complex and not easily understood by an audience unfamiliar with modern Chinese history. In a nutshell, the film is about a special section of the Communist Party in Shanghai that infiltrates the Chinese puppet government and Japanese counter-intelligence agencies. Through a complicated and extremely dangerous web of espionage activities, the revolutionaries manage to recruit allies within the ranks of the enemy, obtain information on the movement of occupying troops, and eliminate traitors within their own ranks. The narrative revolves around three main characters: Director He, director of the Shanghai Political Security Department in the service of the Japanese, the young and ambitious official Mr. Ye, and Commander Watanabe, head of Japanese counter-espionage in Shanghai. Other crucial characters are Ms. Chen, Director He’s wife, Ms. Fang, Mr. Ye’s lover, and Mr. Zheng, head of the communist cell in Shanghai.
The story is told through a series of flashbacks and flashforwards that make it challenging to understand the events in chronological order. Several twists and turns gradually reveal the dual identities of the characters, all complex and tormented individuals who do not shrink back from committing extreme acts of cruelty and violence – even between allies – to hide their true intentions. In short, it is a film that demands constant attention from the audience – for Chinese audiences, the complexity is increased by the fact that the dialogue uses not only Mandarin Chinese, but also Cantonese and the Shanghai dialect, and Japanese. However, the effort required to follow the plot is more than compensated for by the film’s formal elegance – the sophisticated cinematography, the evocative soundtrack – and the extraordinary performances. First of all, Tony Leung Chiu-wai as Director He – a complex character hiding behind a façade of good-natured sadism – and then by Wang Yibo as Mr. Ye, a troubled young man who unexpectedly reveals extraordinary courage. Wang Yibo is an eclectic artist, known in China as a singer, rapper, motorbike racer, presenter, and actor; Cheng Er said he did not want to consider any other actor for the role of Mr. Ye, and the result proves that he was justified. The release of the film, shot in 2021, was scheduled for August 2022 but was postponed to January 2023 to take advantage of the holiday season; the film grossed US$135 million.
A film-making graduate from the Beijing Film Academy in 1999, Cheng Er (1976) is renowned for his ability to create and maintain suspense in his films, almost all of them thrillers. After writing, directing and editing the short film Criminals (1999), he turned his hand to directing TV series. In 2006, he directed his first feature film, the psychological drama Unfinished Girl, and subsequently the award-winning films Lethal Hostage and The Wasted Times. Cheng Er frequently not only directs but also writes and edits his films.
2007 – Unfinished Girl
2012 – Lethal Hostage
2016 – The Wasted Times
2023 – Hidden Blade