“THE WILD GOOSE LAKE”— Societal Ills in China


Societal Ills in China

Amos Lassen

Diao Yinan’s “The Wild Goose Lake” is a prime example of the new generation of Chinese films that are concerned with both a sociopolitical and aesthetic context. The film opens with pouring rain and neon lights, shadowy figures meeting at a rendezvous point, a man checking his watch, and a woman sashaying into position, whispering, “Hey, got a light?” Right away, we know that this is a noir film. The man, Zhou Zenong (Hu Ge), had been waiting for his estranged wife, but instead, the mysterious Liu Aiai (Gwei Lun-mei) appears, a sex worker who demands that Zenong prove that he is who he says he is. In a long flashback beginning two nights earlier, it’s revealed that Zenong is a recently released convict involved with a gang that steals and resells motorbikes. He’s put in charge of a group of men, one of whom has problems with another high-ranking mobster. A contest is set up to resolve the matter, but the outcome is rigged, and soon Zenong is the target of a massive manhunt.

Zenong and two comrades who he brings with him on the run negotiate discreet meet-ups, call in favors with their few remaining friends, and find a way around the cops, while, Aiai lingers in the periphery, her motivations and intentions keep us guessing right up until the end. Dynamic camera movement, suspense-building close-ups, and beautiful choreography fill the film.

Diao uses sprawling geography of what’s essentially a chase film to enter into the sordid underbelly of a Chinese society where lawlessness rules over order. The fugitive antiheroes are framed by an environment that reflects their criminal lives back at them wherever they turn.

One of the film’s major themes is a critical attitude toward ruthless and incompetent Chinese police. In one scene, Zenong’s comrade (Zhang Yicong) is accidentally killed by police fire, after he raises his hands in surrender. In another scene, a team of eager cops pose over the body of a man they just killed and they take selfies. We also see that when the police inspector asks who in his squad doesn’t know how to use their guns, almost every hand goes up. This is a very rare depiction of police on mainland China.

The film’s best moments are the chase scenes by the police showing China to still be a police state in need of further reform. The film is beautiful to watch and the actors’ performances are excellent all around.


  • Diao Yinan Behind-the-Scenes Featurette
  • Interview with stars Hu Ge and Gwei Lun Mei
  • Bonus Short Film— The Goddess (Directed by Renkai Tan | United States, China | Chinese with English subtitles| 7 minutes) — A young woman decides to take justice into her own hands after a traumatic assault. Based on a true story. 

 About Film Movement

Founded in 2002, Film Movement is a North American distributor of award-winning independent and foreign films based in New York City. It has released more than 250 feature films and shorts culled from prestigious film festivals worldwide including the Oscar-nominated films Theeb (2016) and Corpus Christi (2020). Film Movement’s theatrical releases include American independent films, documentaries, and foreign art house titles. Its catalog includes titles by directors such as Hirokazu Kore-eda, Maren Ade, Jessica Hausner, Andrei Konchalovsky, Andrzej Wajda, Diane Kurys, Ciro Guerra and Melanie Laurent. In 2015, Film Movement launched its reissue label Film Movement Classics, featuring new restorations released theatrically as well as on Blu-ray and DVD, including films by such noted directors as Eric Rohmer, Peter Greenaway, Bille August, Marleen Gorris, Takeshi Kitano, Arturo Ripstein, King Hu, Sergio Corbucci, Ettore Scola and Luchino Visconti. For more information, please visit www.filmmovement.com. Visit www.filmmovementplus.com for more information about Film Movement Plus, the new subscription streaming service from Film Movement.

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