Crazy Racer -- Film Review

Bottom line: An exhilarating crime caper in perpetual motion.

HONG KONG -- Ning Hao's "Crazy Racer" plays with the velocity of an athlete pumped up on steroids and amphetamines.

Hysterical cartoon-like action competes with thick vernacular humor that operates on cerebral and sensory levels, as a spectacularly unlucky bicycle racer becomes embroiled in all kinds of bungled crimes in this madcap comedy. It's a circus act of pure cinematic showmanship that loosely channels the Coen brothers.

Some will say Ning's too clever by halfway through the film, but his satire on the rampant greed driving China's market economy is spot on.

In China, ticket revenue exceeded $19 million -- a huge turnover from the $1.75 million production budget. Overseas sales could initially gain a foothold in territories that enthusiastically received Ning Hao's "Crazy Stone," his last runaway hit, and the film could make inroads into non-Chinese markets.

In "Crazy Racer," three plot lines overlap and collide at multiple narrative junctions. The unified motif driving them: Money makes the world go round, or go crazy.

Bicycling silver medalist Geng Hao was disqualified for using prohibited drugs. He blames sponsor Li Fala for giving him a virility drink. When his coach dies, he pesters Li to pay for the funeral as compensation. Two clueless crooks unable to foot their wedding bills are hired by Li to bump off his wife, but they succumb to her counter-bid. A gang of drug dealers from Taiwan arrange to buy heroin from a Thai trafficker who comes disguised as a bicycle racer, but at some point, he turns into an icicle.

Like a switchboard operator, Ning turns tangled lines on and off at will, then connects them to each other with clarity in a tour de force chase scene that pedals furiously toward a rollicking finale. However, the extremely rich narrative only holds together if one accepts poetic license for the outrageous coincidences written into the script as part of the joke.

Ning's visual arabesque reaches new heights as he crams every frame with fancy shots and wacky compositions. On first viewing, the breakneck editing makes it hard to take in the cacophony of flavorsome dialects and accents, Ning's mastery of ambiance and the wickedly twisted dialogue.

His characters are grotesque and psychotic, yet they pursue their goals with fascinating animalistic gusto.

Production companies: China Film Group, Warner China Film HG, Beijing Guoli Changsheng
Cast: Huang Bo, Jiu Kong, Rong, Xiang, Gao Jie
Director/screenwriter: Ning Hao
Producer: Han Sanping, Zhang Guoli
Editor: Zhang Yifan
Sales: Warner Bros
No rating, 104 minutes