ABSURD ACCIDENT (2017) review

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A feature debut Derek Yee liked so much that he hopped on as an executive producer to help it reach a wider audience, Li Yuhe’s Absurd Accident follows a motel owner (Chen Xixu) who’s sexually impotent and suspects his wife (Gao Ye) of cheating on him. He hires a doctor (Rui Cao) – who’s been treating his impotence and who claims to have mob connections – to find a pro to go and kill his wife. The doctor actually takes the money and goes himself, but nothing unfolds as planned: the wife’s survival instinct, a hapless robber (Lou Yunfei), a cop about to retire (Chen Chunsheng), and a couple on a date (Ren Suxi and Dong Bo) all get in the way of a seemingly simple plan.

The rural dark comedy is a genre in which Chinese cinema is peerless. Not so long ago, a superb example of it was released, Cao Baoping’s Cock and Bull. Though understandably less assured and accomplished than that film, Absurd Accident is nevertheless a minor blast, and a promising debut for Li Yuhe. As usual in the genre, it is populated with cowards, con men, blowhards and naive lawmen, all gesticulating for objectively risible stakes against vast, indifferent natural backdrops. Tightly scripted, it strongly evokes vaudeville with its enjoyingly self-contained and roundabout structure (however much events spiral out of control, they always lead characters back to the motel), its reliance on lust and jealousy as prime-movers, and its sliding-doors, almost mathematical shifts in focus (two characters out, two characters in).

There are some flourishes that appear a bit clumsy: the non-linear structure doesn’t bring much to the film, nor do the self-conscious chapter title-inserts; and while amusing, a few short passages shot as a silent film (under-cranked, black and white images with dialogue inserts) mostly clash with Li Yuhe’s unfussy direction for most of the film’s runtime. Still, Li can rely on a talented cast of newcomers and theatre actors, with Ren Suxi a highlight, making the most of her short screen time with a deliciously wry performance.

Long Story Short: An enjoyably dark and bawdy rural comedy, Absurd Accident is a promising feature debut for Li Yuhe. ***1/2

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