Screened as part of NZIFF 2001
The Grand Jury Prize winner at last year’s Cannes festival is the tour de force amongst this year’s Chinese films, a blackly comic action movie set in a Chinese village occupied by Japanese forces. A brash assault on long-standing historical resentments, Devils on the Doorstep has offended Chinese censors and Japanese nationalists alike. — BG
This energetic, modern and surprisingly boisterous comedy of errors set during Japan’s occupation of China revolves around the effects of war – and even worse, humanity – on one rural Chinese village. Ma Dasan and his neighbours find their uneasy peace suddenly jeopardized when rebels unexpectedly give them two POWs for a week’s ‘safekeeping’. One prisoner, a racist Japanese soldier, provokes the villagers with threats and insults, while the other, a Chinese/Japanese interpreter, smoothly translates his slurs of ‘Die, Chinese scum’ into ‘Happy New Year, favorite Uncle’ and schemes to escape.
When no one comes to collect the captives, however, the villagers must decide whether to set them free or kill them, a choice made more difficult since, while everyone has an opinion, nobody quite knows how to kill. Merging Ealing-style village comedy with the spectacular virtuosity of an all-out war film, Devils still makes certain to foreground its humanist, intimate concerns. Best known for his lead roles in Red Sorghum and The Emperor’s Shadow, actor/director Jiang Wen keeps his film’s pace fast and the action faster à la Kusturica’s Underground and like Kusturica, wisely balances its spectacles, comedies and confusions against its overwhelming, all-too-real tragedies. — Jason Sanders, San Francisco Film Festival, 2001
Devils on the Doorstep imposingly and entertainingly combines the characteristics of a classic war drama (such as CinemaScope) with modern cinematography and montage; crowd scenes with countless extras alongside speedy handheld camerawork in dialogue scenes. Director and superstar Jiang Wen shows that the devils in the title do not necessarily have to be strangers. — Rotterdam Film Festival, 2001