Directed by Zhang Meng
Grand Jury Prize, 2014 Shanghai International Film Festival
From Zhang Meng (Piano in a Factory, SDAFF ’11) comes another charmer featuring the director’s trademark deadpan humor and grandiose tableaus of everyday life. Once again, Zhang hones in on a story of adults trying to set things straight by desperately reaching out to children.
With the resignation of a fading noir anti-hero, ex-gangster Chen Shengli is released after spending 10 years in prison for cutting off the hamstring of his rival gang’s boss. Now, he’s back in town, wandering aimlessly around his old turf and frequenting a seedy nightclub where he meets a tough nurse he mostly falls for. Undeterred by former colleagues coming after him to settle old scores, and with barely a morsel of charity, Shengli decides to turn things around by taking over a kindergarten whose previous owner has gone into hiding from creditors.
Even though Shengli runs the kindergarten like a prison guard, Zhang Meng never relies on the ironic juxtaposition of kids and gangsters for obvious sentiment and cheap laughs. With gang tattoos he insistently gets removed, Shengli is the embodiment of Zhang’s view of masculinity in a post-socialist China, where ambition has been left to run in circles in the Soviet bloc-inspired rubble. With a winning mix of humor and mirth and a healthy dose of pan-Chinese pop, UNCLE VICTORY stages a parable on the absurdity of redemption. –Wilda Wong