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Crazy Racer
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by Jay Seaver

"Crazier than a lot of comedy from China."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2009 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: If I were to look over the reviews I've been writing over the past few weeks, I'd probably find I've used the word "crazy" a lot, and generally meant it as a compliment, which I hope comes through. China's Ning Hao is clearly trying to curry favor with me, as "Crazy Racer" (also known as "Silver Medalist") is his follow-up to a film called "Crazy Stone". And he's not failing.

We start a few years ago. Cyclist Geng Hao (Huang Bo) has just won a big race, but he takes a swig from a product he's endorsing made by Fala Li (Jiu Kong). Positive drug test! Forfeiture! Banned! Now, years later, he's driving a refrigerated truck, and his trainer has just died of a heart attack. Geng Hao decides Fala Li should pay for the funeral, but it's a bad time for this. The race is about to be run again, only a Thai drug dealer (Worapoj Thuantanon) has taken the place of one of the cyclists so that he can smuggle cocaine into the city inside the bike. He's meant to meet up with a couple gangsters (Rong Xiang and Jack Kao). Meanwhile, Fala Li is trying to kill his wife (Dong Lifan), but he's hired a couple of petty crooks (Xu Zheng and Yung Cheung) who aren't good at the big stuff - and have stolen Geng Hao's truck.

These stories are barely connected from the outset, but it's not long before Ning is taking these threads and weaving a quilt out of them, having this connect to him, him run into them, them pass that without realizing it, and that make this nearly impossible. This sort of rapid mixing and matching of story lines has become a regular feature of Western films, but maybe not so popular in China, where even films with complex plots (far more rare than complex characters or ideas) often present them in large, discrete chunks. At least, that's what crosses the Pacific. Crazy Racer, on the other hand, is frantic.

Part of the fun, though, is that while the film itself is very busy, it's not so much so that it leaves the audience in the dark about who the various characters are, or has to resort to on-screen info dumps or whooshing flashbacks to give the audience what it needs to know. The intersecting storylines collide and diverge organically, so that while the story is jumping left and right, it's not jumping up and down the timeline. So the plot isn't quite as complicated as it could be, and the comedy definitely isn't: It's pretty straightforward gags that are very close to mugging for the camera.

Happily, Huang Bo is good at that. Parts of his performance suggest that Crazy Racer would be a stoner comedy if not for censorship somewhere along the line; he makes Geng Hao extremely laid-back, though not immune from the occasional freak-out. He's a happy target of slapstick and charming even as Geng Hao's obliviousness makes things worse. Worapoj Thuantanon is the film's bad-news straight man, establishing just enough menace to start the plot moving forward even as he will be stymied by the idiocy around him. The bulk of that comes from Xu Zheng and Yung Cheung, who are great bunglers, while Jiu Kong and Dong Lifan are just grotesque enough to be weird but not enough to put one off the movie. It's a bunch of people, but they're all funny in their own way.

I think the movie looks pretty good, too. I say "I think" because a lack of subtitles on the 35mm print meant that the movie had to be screened on video, and some video sources shouldn't be projected that large. Still, you can tell that Hao has an eye for oddball imagery, and he's able to move from brightly-colored environments to poor and gritty ones without seeming to change the film's style too much. He shoots action very nicely, too, whether it be Thuantanon doing a little martial arts or the bike race in which Geng Hao must, inevitably, find himself.

"Crazy Racer" does, at the very least, live up to its title, delivering the sort of frantic comedy that makes the audience wonder just what the audience was thinking, getting from here to there. We don't see a lot of comedy from China unless it's grafted on to some kind of action movie, but I could certainly go for a few more like this.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=19288&reviewer=371
originally posted: 09/10/09 01:22:12
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Fantasia Festival For more in the 2009 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2009 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2009 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 New York Asian Film Festival For more in the 2010 New York Asian Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/16/10 mohamad A post modern chinses movie 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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Directed by
  Hao Ning

Written by
  Hao Ning

Cast
  Bo Huang
  Kong Jiu
  Zheng Xu
  Cheung Yung



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