Square dance in the neighbourhood open space in the early morning and evening has been very popular in China for more than a decade.

A scene from The Wild Goose Lake, a Chinese crime movie nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes early this year.

People enjoyed square dances in a semi-developed urban area (城乡结合部) on the outskirts of Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei Province in the middle reach of the Yangtze River.

living on the margins

These semi-developed areas between rural and urban often quite rundown with cheaper rental costs, thus attracting a large number of low-income earners and jobless non-locals, as well as criminal gangs. The situation has been very much improved now compared to 10 years ago as depicted in the film.

There are also bikie gangs in China. Some bikies are not just devoted to bike chasing and group fighting but making living out of motorbikes – they steal and dismantle bikes and sold the components for quick cash.

Unlike in Australia and other Western countries, most thieves and gangsters in China are not drug addicts. They just fall out of the social network, struggle in the margin and couldn’t find a way back to the community. Many of them are still yearning for normal family life.

A scene from The Wild Goose Lake that looks like a classical oil painting. 

Not all group meetings in China are as peaceful and cheerful as square dance, just like in Australia and in all other Western and non-Western countries.

The movie The Wild Goose Lake begins with a bikie-chiefs’ national conference that is aimed at exchanging the latest information on targets and upgrading new skills in stealing, an event based on a true incident which somehow conveniently led police to round up all those professional thieves in just one go.

However, in the movie, before the police took any action, a mass brawl broke out between two factions of the bikie thieves which resulted in multiple deaths. The film tears open a hidden layer of Chinese social fabric and does so in an honest fashion.

In the film, the leading character Zhou Zenong, a ring leader and bike chief, mistakenly killed a police officer during a bikie war, thus he became a wanted man.

When he learned his head was worth 30,000 RMB that he never could manage to obtain, he decided to do something good for the ones he had owned emotional debt, his wife and son. Previously he spent years in jail and hadn’t seen them for half a decade.

But his wife refused to be part of it.

So he found a hooker who was willing to report his whereabouts to the police in his wife’s name on the condition she would be able to secure a portion of the fortune.

This plot is also based on a true story in which a wanted criminal ran back to his home village in an attempt to let his aunt, who raised him up after his parents passed away, win the award.

Aimless – a man on the run and in despair 

While waiting for the final moment to eventuate, Zhou Zenong, badly wounded by a gunshot and relentlessly pursued by police and other bikies for the price on his head, was near the collapse point, both physically and mentally. Then he discovered the hooker was associated with the rival bikies.

The bad internal habit and the destructive external environment as the karmic consequence form a detrimental circle. By then it would become so hard to change the direction. The hard he struggled, the deeper he was trapped in. It was a life in a living hell.

He starved for days and hid in a zoo at night among the animals when police and bikies searched for him.

Eventually, he secured the meeting with the hooker at a small noodle shop. He had no choice but to trust her.

The last supper – a starved Zhou Zenong ate his first bowl of noodle bought by the hooker.

The last supper – Zhou Zenong ate his second bowl of noodle after the hooker disappeared. He realised this would be his last meal.

When Zhou Zenong ate his meal at a noodle store waiting for the police to arrive, the realisation that this would be his last supper led to self-pity, sorrow and despair, which made it hard for him to swallow the noodle in the second bowl.

No matter what we have experienced in life, our feelings are the same.

Screenwriter and director Diao Yinan’s revelation of a dark corner in our human community is both bold and delicate. He lays bare all its cruelty and deception while does not present them in a repulsively stomach-churning manner but adopting a highly artistic and visually considerate approach.

Diao’s selection of the leading actor and Hu Ge’s accurate and restrained interpretation of a gangster’s emotional journey in his last hours are just brilliant and superb. Gui Lunmei’s portrayal of hooker Liu Aiai with a complicated personality and Wan Qian’s depiction of Zhou Zenong’s suffering wife is also outstanding.

This film is not a novel but a report, an essay and a poem.

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