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CANNES — Diao Yinan’s “Night Train” is a chilling drama about a lonely young Chinese woman who is a bailiff working for a remote regional court that hands out death sentences. She coldly dons white gloves to assist in the capital punishment, sometimes pulling the trigger herself.
It is a bleakly pessimistic film that grips due to the writer-director’s spare framing of scenes, droll wit and ability to draw performances of substance from his actors. There should be considerable interest on the festival circuit.
Shot in the inhospitable industrial landscape of China’s western provinces, the film takes its time revealing what Wu Hongyan (Liu Dan) does for a living. Attractive but tightly wrapped, she journeys far by bus to attend a dance hall where strangers are brought together by a dating agency. Her first date is an ingratiating man (Xu Wei) who charms her by doing sleight-of-hand magic tricks but she is forced to defend herself when his passion gets out of hand.
In due course she encounters Li Yun (Qi Dao) who is tall and quiet but it turns out that his wife is one of the prisoners that Wu has dispatched. He stalks the bailiff but her curiosity is aroused and they begin a relationship in which hostility is very close to the surface.
The lead actors perform with much attention to small detail as the director develops his story, which becomes more perverse as it goes along. Scenes that might be everyday become seriously eerie as the man becomes torn between his attraction to the bailiff and his desire to extract some kind of vengeance. There is duality in the woman’s behavior too as she appears increasingly numbed by self-loathing and appears to invite retribution. The picture is not in any way a horror film but the final scenes are filled with cold dread.
NIGHT TRAIN (YE CHE)
Ho-Hi Pictures in association with DViant Films
Director and screenwriter: Diao Yinan
Producers: Vivian Qu, Steve Chow
Executive producers: Shu Yao, Yinghua Lu, Sean Chen
Director of photography: Dong Jinsong
Art directors: Lam Ching, Liu Qiang
Music: Wen Zi
Editor: Komg Jinlei
Co-producers: Julien Favre, Pascal Vaguelsy
Wu Hongyan: Liu Dan
Li Jun: Qi Dao
Wu’s first date: Xu Wei
Wu’s second date: Wu Yuxi
Wu’s girlfriend: Wang Zhenjia
New prisoner: Men Haiyan
Running time — 94 minutes
No MPAA rating
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