Saving Mr. Wu (China, 2015)

Directed by: Ding Sheng. Normally I may not be drawn to what looked like a standard kidnapping thriller, but the caveat that it’s based on a true story of a famous actor who was kidnapped, and who appears in this movie about his own kidnapping, was too good to pass up. Wu Ruofu, who plays the police captain, apparently wasn’t as famous as the fictional Mr. Wu when he was kidnapped, he was simply targeted for having a fancy car. But he was kidnapped for several days, and here’s the movie of it. I have no idea if the real Mr. Wu’s ordeal was as gripping, as intense, and as psychologically rewarding as it looks in this movie, but the movie was very compelling! Andy Lau (fresh in my mind from his amazing turn in House of Flying Daggers) is the perfect guy to play a magnanimous famous rich guy, recognizable, but not otherworldly, so you feel like you can still identify with him, it’s not a stretch to believe that he’s just a regular guy like all of us. And the villain, Wang Qianyuan, was absolutely incredible. I say villain because he really is a ringleader, a very smart person doing bad things. But it’s interesting how they do it here—he isn’t really humanized in the sense of showing us flashbacks to his childhood, maybe his parents were abusive, grew up in the streets, etc. They talk about him a little bit, but what I found really striking is how completely mysterious he remains. He just feels like doing this, he just likes it, maybe he’s compelled to do it, maybe he has a mental illness or a personality disorder of some kind. But we don’t get a hint—we just see him, defiant, mischievous, apathetic to the pain of others, but completely sharp, completely intelligent. We never really learn what his deal is, and I think that actually makes this villain come full circle and read as being more realistic, not less. It’s a fine line between cartoon, moralistic villain and complex character, but I like this idea of an inscrutable face, a person just acting in the world, and the only thing we can do is act, like the police rushing to beat the clock and solve the case. This isn’t as dark and disturbing as a Korean noir thriller, but it definitely has more depth of character than a lot of two-dimensional Hollywood thrillers, or Hong Kong thrillers for that matter (and way better than the last Dutch kidnapping thriller I saw). Very thrilled.

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