March 10th, 2007
In Mandarin with English subtitles. This movie concerns two men, Tang and Song, who live by working a strange and nasty con in remote Chinese coal mines. The con involves committing a murder inside the mine, covering it up by faking a cave-in, and then collecting a cash settlement from the mine owner.
The con works because the mine owners are as corrupt as Tang and Song are. They cannot risk a safety inspection, so they pay up.
The movie feels like a documentary. The locales are crude, remote villages where life is cheap. Everyone swears a lot, which seems somehow shocking in a foreign-language film. There are many odd and strangely charming touches, such as when Tang and Song sing karaoke with some prostitutes after collecting for their first murder. The prostitutes teach them dirty words to a well-known socialist song. This detail and others creates sympathy for the characters, who come to seem like ordinary guys just trying to get by in a tough world. But they are hardened killers.
The twist arises from the youth of the second victim, and the fact that Song has a son close to his age. He gets sentimental about killing someone so young, thinking it doesn’t seem right to kill a person who has never drunk wine or had sex.
This realization doesn’t make the men spare the boy. Instead they decide to get him drunk and buy him a prostitute.
But there is a twist. The murder does not proceed as planned.
I like this movie a lot. It isn’t especially deep or philosophical, and the con is a bit hard to understand at first, but it always feels true. Highly recommended.