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January 26, 2012

Wind Blast

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Xi Feng Lie
Gao Qunshu - 2010
Mega Star Region 3 DVD

Wind Blast starts off with a point blank shooting in Hong Kong before jumping to a SUV speeding along on what passes for a highway, somewhere near the China-Mongolian border. For those who demand introductions and exposition, this isn't the film for you. There's no hesitation as the film dives into the action, eventually revealing a story about a trio of cops pursuing a hit man, who is also pursued by a pair of assassins.

What makes Wind Blast of interest is that it takes much of the iconography of the western and transposed it to contemporary China. This is not just in terms of the narrative, or that two of the main characters wear cowboy hats. The environment acts as an additional character as well. Much of the film takes place in an uninhabitable landscape, where desert meets mountain. Some of the characters are almost literally swallowed up by this environment with part of the film taking place inside an underground cave.

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The wide open spaces allow for some very fancy driving between two dueling SUVs, as well as an SUV and a very large truck, combined with the tossing of Molotov cocktails. Traditional gun fights alternate with some high kicking martial arts. The climax takes place in an almost abandoned outpost of crumbling office buildings planted in the middle of nowhere. The western element takes over with a stampede of what appears to be hundreds of wild horses galloping through the town and into the main building where the police nominally are in control. As if that wasn't enough, dynamite is casually tossed back and forth between the police and lead bad guy, Francis Ng. The strong winter winds are the least of anyone's problems here.

The visual elements will recall for some Sergio Leone primarily, but also William Wyler and Delmer Daves. There are several shots of the mountains and desert, as well as shots of the characters dwarfed and overwhelmed by the vastness, the sense of endless space. The opening shots are of Hong Kong's skyscrapers. I name the three filmmakers because of how important geography is, as a part of their respective narratives, and how nature is perhaps not so much hostile, but indifferent to the conflicts of the characters. On top of that is a contemporary music score with Mandarin rock and rap, as well as harmonica. The title translates as "West wind martyrs" which is something of an exaggeration as it would suggest that almost everyone dies in this film. That the assassins carry computers with high tech GPS devices also pushes some of the plausibility. Such quibbles are easily put aside for the sheer visceral audacity of Gao and action director Nicky Li.

The best known cast member would be Francis Ng. The film belongs to Duan Yihong as the grizzled sage leader of the police force. Cowboy hats worn by Ng and Duan serve as both character and cultural signifiers well before either of them start shooting their guns. Duan, more than anyone else, is the equivalent of the archetypical character of classic Hollywood westerns. Also of interest is Yu Nan as a female assassin. Known best by some as the title character in Tuya's Marriage, but also with Speed Racer as part of her resume, Yu has been tapped to be in The Expendables 2. One look at Yu's bruised face, and "don't fuck with me" glare, should answer any questions as to her ability to hang out with Stallone and company.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at January 26, 2012 08:34 AM