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13 Jun 2012

Guns N' Roses

Finally! 'Allo 'Allo! in Chinese! As Brechtian theatre!

Original Title: 黄金大劫案

Director: Ning Hao

Language: Mandarin

Screenplay: Xing Aina

Cast: Lei Jia Yin, Tao Hong, Cheng Yuan Yuan, Chun Sun, Keiichi Yamasaki

A side effect of the Chinese economic boom funding the recent explosion in Chinese cinema is how Chinese filmmakers have come under stronger film censorship from both state organs and the tyrannical will of the public. Independent, challenging films the likes we saw in the 70s and 80s have virtually disappeared, replaced with either jingoistic films set during the Sino-Japanese war or bland romcoms set in the modern day. Ning Hao would know a thing or two about how the new film system works. Having previously made the sleeper hit crime farce Crazy Stone, Ning Hao fell afoul of censorship authorities with Western Sunshine, a modern analogue to The Story of Qiu Ju.

It is best to consider Guns N' Roses as a surrender to state-approved mainstream storytelling that at the same wilfully subverts and negates the very idea of its surrender. On the superficial level, Guns N' Roses is a standard Sino-Japanese flick, a neo-western and a comedy set in the puppet state of Manchuko in the 1930s. The plot involves a bunch of revolutionaries who join forces with a street-wise, morally suspect conman to carry out a bank heist to derail the funding of a military and diplomatic alliance between Germany and Japan.

Any half competent Chinese director would know how to shoot a film like this, and could probably do it in his sleep too. Yet what Ning Hao does is to turn this genre into the broadest farce not seen since 'Allo 'Allo!. While it's possible to consume this film straight as a nationalistic war film, you would be hard pressed to ignore the broadly offensive ethnic stereotypes (no one gets spared, not even the Chinese!), the bumbling incompetence of both the revolutionaries and the Japanese military, their harebrained plots, very cheap sets, costumes that really look as though they were bought in a costume party shop.

Hidden in this farce of a film is some criticism about corruption in modern China somewhere – it's pretty obvious if you know where to look. Otherwise, Guns N' Roses is the sort of film would only make sense if you grew up watching too much 'Allo 'Allo! and somehow are interested in nationalistic Chinese war films.

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