The Screening Room Blog
Saturday, August 30, 2008
Yakuza in the Favela: 'Plastic City' by Yu Lik-wai
VENICE, Italy -- I had a cinema rock 'n' roll moment last night at a screening that ended after midnight.

We were waiting to watch "Dangkou (Plastic City)," Hong Kong director Yu Lik-wai's (right) Asian gangster movie set in Brazil in the PalaBiennale cinema, which has the shape and dimensions of an aeroplane hangar and the biggest screen I think I've ever sat in front of.

The cinema was packed. There were probably 500 people there and the place was crackling. The crowd wolf whistled and cheered as if we were at a music gig waiting for a band to come on: Not what you expect watching an art house film late on a Friday night. It was a perfect collective experience -- one that reminds you what going to the cinema is all about.

Yu's film, which is in competition, is set against the backdrop of Brazil's huge Asian community (Brazil has the biggest Japanese population outside Japan) in a place called Liberdade, São Paulo -- the community's epicentre.

With dialogue in Portuguese as well as Cantonese and featuring Japanese star Joe Odagiri as well as "City of God" actor Phellipe Haagensen, the film reflects the global melting pot culture that Liberdade represents -- something that Yu is fascinated by.

Although he has previously directed two features "Love will Tear us Apart" and "All Tomorrow's Parties" (both of which showed at Cannes Film Festival), Yu is renowned as a cinematographer. He has worked with Wong Kar Wai and was Director of Photography on Jia Zhanke's "Sanxia haoren" (Still Life) which won the Golden Lion here in 2006.

I was really excited to see this film and Yu's cinematography is exquisite, especially the aerial shots of São Paulo and his panoramas of miles and miles of favelas. I have also been reliably informed by some Brazilian colleagues that he very precisely captures the Liberdade dialect, which the director says he spent a long time in the city researching to get right.

But when the film ended, I was left feeling really muddled by the plot and ultimately quite disappointed. Whatever message Yu was trying to get across was lost on me. What a contrast from the high hopes I had going in.

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