- Thelma & Louise meets Blue is the Warmest Colour in Green Night, set in Korea and featuring Fan Bingbing as an exploited migrant worker turned avenger
- While her performance ranks as one of the most rugged in Fan’s career, the film itself, directed by Han Shuai, suffers from a weak story and unwieldy structure
Banished to the wilderness by the authorities in China for nearly five years for tax evasion, A-list Chinese actress Fan Bingbing is back in the limelight with her appearance in Green Night.
Premiering at the Berlin International Film Festival, the film features Fan as a down-and-out migrant worker who is exploited, throttled and raped before turning into a hard-as-hell avenger who beats up one of her assailants and sets fire to another.
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Packed with all this and much more – including a sweaty and protracted sex scene that one would have never imagined Fan doing in her image-conscious, censorship-abiding days – Green Light looks like an audacious, feature-length statement of intent to reinvent herself as a bona fide thespian.
While her performance certainly ranks as one of the most rugged in her career, the film itself flounders at every turn, its story weak and its structure unwieldy.
Revolving around two women’s explosive descent into crime, violence and death in a chauvinist world, Green Light is very much an Asian remake of Thelma & Louise for the 21st century; the blooming relationship between the two protagonists, meanwhile, bear all the imprints of the French romance drama Blue is the Warmest Colour.
The Shadowless Tower: gentle soul-searching in Chinese midlife drama
Green Light is essentially a film looking for a narrative to accommodate director Han Shuai’s own influences.
Fan plays Jin Xia, a Chinese woman living in Korea, where she suffers in an abusive marriage of convenience and makes a living as an airport security officer.
Her life changes when a green-haired young woman (Lee Joo-young from Broker) reacts to a pat-down search by thrusting her tattooed chest into Jin’s face and whispering into her ear.
When Jin leaves work for the day, the young woman follows her home with a bag filled with drugs.
Minutes after Jin reports this to her supervisor, a car screeches to a stop outside her building and thugs appear.
This marks the beginning of the women’s 24-hour dash across Seoul, during which Jin and the unnamed Manic Pixie Drug Mule try to offload the booty, confront Jin’s religious-fanatic husband, contend with a conspiracy among the men around them and contemplate the feelings they have for each other.
The Belgian-born and now Beijing-based cinematographer Matthias Delvaux’s hand-held camerawork gives the narrative much-needed urgency, and the on-screen energy is palpable.
However, it is quite hard to engage with the thinly sketched characters – there is hardly an inkling of where they came from or where they were heading, and one of them does not even have a name.
Even the film’s overarching theme – about women struggling in a world shaped by the visible brawn and invisible hands of men – feels forced and superficial.
Green Light might well serve as Fan’s calling card for the future, but the film itself will probably go down less well for Han, who blazed a trail herself three years ago with the festival hit Summer Blur.
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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.
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