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The Continent

Continent

William Feng and Wilson Chen cross The Continent.


  Chinese: 後會無期
Year: 2014  
Director: Han Han
Producer: Fang Li
Writer: Han Han
Cast:

William Feng, Wilson Chen, Wallace Chung, Wang Luodan, Yolanda Yuan, Joe Chen Qiao-En, Jia Zhangke, Gao Huayang, Bai Ke, Kong Lianshun

The Skinny: Dryly funny road movie that knows that itís not as deep as it pretends to be. Or, it really does think itís deep and manages to amuse anyway. Either way, Han Hanís The Continent is a quirky and unexpectedly funny faux-art film.
   
Review
by Kozo:

Celebrity writer, blogger and race car driver (Really!) Han Han brings his popular fictional stylings to the screen with his directorial debut The Continent. A written-for-the-screen road movie, the film concerns old friends Ma Haohan (William Feng), Jiang He (Wilson Chen) and Hu Sheng (Gao Huayan), who, upon being asked to relocate from their home island off the eastern coast of China, begin a 3000 kilometer road trip across the country to Jiang Heís new teaching job. After a brief visit with actress and old friend Zhou Mo (Joe Chen), the three stop at a dilapidated hotel where the introspective and quirky Jiang He takes a shine to enigmatic prostitute Su Mi (Wang Luodan). A shakedown leads to a quick getaway, but the cognitively-challenged Hu Sheng is left behind while Jiang He and Ma Haohan abscond with Su Mi in tow. She isnít with them for long, but a bond forms between she and Jiang He, and some reflection on love and self are gleamed.

Then the journey continues, sans Hu Sheng and Su Mi, as Haohan decides to visit his longtime penpal Liu Yingying (Yolanda Yuan). A self-aggrandizing blowhard, Haohan believes that Yingying has long pined for him, but heís about to get a rude awakening. And so it continues for the traveling twosome, as they move further from their origins and encounter more diversions and emotions. Their journey begets feelings of transition and maturation as the two fight, make new friends and even get bamboozled. What does it all mean? Iím not sure I can tell you. Thereís a lot going on in The Continent but most of the turmoil takes place inside the characters. Why are we here? Where are we going? Whatís with this dude, and why is he talking about penises? Thereís a self-absorption to Han Hanís musings that surely relates to his target audience. Wong Kar-Wai tapped into this zeitgeist in Hong Kong over 20 years ago, but his approach was overtly pretentious, while Han Han approaches matters in a more engaging way using obvious self-deprecation and dry wit.

The humor of The Continent saves it from being impenetrable pseudo-existential blather. The jokes arenít belly laughs, however, and are largely carried by pacing and timing, with the hapless duo of Haohan and Jiang He frequently the butt of the funnies. Sudden swerves from epiphanies to pratfalls, moments of absurd lyricism Ė The Continent uses dry surprise well and consistently amuses. The performers are in fine form too. Wilson Chen is an ace at playing dopey yet righteous slackers, and Jiang He certainly qualifies as one. Meanwhile, William Feng is dead on as the puffed-up Haohan, whose egocentric antics provide much of the filmís absurd humor. Wang Luodan and Yolanda Yuan shine in their smaller roles, while Wallace Chung is amusingly outspoken as a bohemian backpacker who, for a short time, becomes Jiang He and Haohanís third wheel. All the characters are surreal in that they donít act like youíd expect real people to, but thatís the chosen aesthetic. This is Han Hanís world Ė take it or leave it, people.

Ultimately, itís difficult to say that The Continent accomplishes all that much besides deadpan quirk and a few serendipitous surprises. The film could be regarded as a metaphor for the journey towards maturation, with each person representing a piece of oneís personality, and each stage of the journey resulting in another piece getting left behind (first Hu Sheng, then another, until finally one is left). Or, this might be a film only for Han Hanís legion of followers (among which I cannot be counted). As is, the film only succeeds at appearing to plumb philosophical depths Ė and yet it also seems to understand that its own pretensions are something to poke fun at. This is a unique creation and one that Ė while itís not forthcoming enough to be everyoneís cup of tea Ė can still engage with its character insight, small surprises, a cute puppy (yes, thereís a puppy), exacting pacing, subtle camerawork and finally the expansive, earthy vistas that greet Haohan and Jiang He on each step of their journey. Itís arguable that following this twosome results in anything that revealing or substantial. But the ride is well worth it. (Kozo, 10/2014)

   

Availability:

DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Panorama (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Mandarin Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS ES
Removable English and Chinese subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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