China's top domestic grosser and part of FOCUS: First Cuts film series. Like Love Story, Rain Dogs, Shoe Fairy etc..
I think this is the funniest yet in the series and possibly one of the best movies this year.
A trio of inept grifters, an accomplished but unlucky cat burglar and a lustful louse of a photographer unwittingly find themselves tangled together in a messy heist for a precious jade pendant, discovered at the grounds of a floundering factory on the verge of being torn down. The only man standing in their way is a jaded (and constipated) ex-detective, Bao Shihong (Guo Tao) who moonlights as a security guard, dedicated to protect the pendant.
With the comic subtlety of a Stephen Chow effort and the frenzied pace of a psychedelic monkey, Ning Haos direction oozes reckless exuberance and is distinguished by a sharp visual intuitiveness and canny knack for accentuating physical comedy in his performers. In his latest film, Crazy Stone, Ning Hao brings the focus to mainland China - set in Chongqing, a bustling city with an effervescent and distinctive population. Its a welcome change of pace from his austere and halcyonian Mongolian Ping Pong, which rigorously strayed away from highfalutin city living.
A high concept crime comedy, its chock-full of the requisite black comedy, violence and accidental mayhem that audiences have come to expect from caper-genre gems such as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch and Pulp Fiction. Relying heavily on complexities, coincidences, and confluences, it brings together disparate groups of characters with shared ambitions and builds a disjointed narrative that constantly revolves around a singular catalyst.
In this case, its the jade pendant thats going to be auctioned off to settle the factory owners (Chen Zhenghua) debts with a crooked property developer. Of course, the mobster developer needs the land in order to build a high-rise condominium, so he hires a professional thief to steal the guarded gemstone. Unfortunately, a crew of local hustlers (Liu Hua, Yue Xiaojun, Huang Bo) robs him when he lands and get wise to his assignment. They then prepare to pick up where he inadvertently left off. A wildcard in the form of the factory owners unscrupulous and self-absorbed son (Peng Bo) is introduced, mucking up the plans of all involved.
The itinerant and taut screenplay that switches between its subjects in the parallels of time and space reaches a farcical precision through its slick and witty dialogue that often digresses into bizarre and off-the-wall zingers. The humour is incredibly sharp and matter-of-fact, an esoteric representation of the colloquialisms and commonplace vernacular of mainland Chinese. The thick, impenetrable dialect can be a task but its comedy often amounts to slapstick and cheeky throwaway gags, especially in the case of the bandit trio, an obvious homage to the antics of the Three Stooges. These are definitely not the suave and elegant criminal masterminds of Oceans Eleven, they find themselves face down in the mud and grime more often than they manage to slip past unsuspecting guards and cleverly reversing the advantage.
Synthesizing the approaches of experimental edits and innovative camera techniques, the films aggressive and capricious style is an amalgamation of derivative and flaunty exhibitions of colour and visual design. It might seem like an exercise in style over substance when it employs the use of technical edits and split screens to convey modal ideas where less can be considered more. Fortunately with its complicated yet effective plot finesse, which remains unyieldingly manic till the end, it is probably the FOCUS: First Cuts (FFC) film series best, if not the most memorable entry to date.
Its 28-year-old director must already be primed for his next feature. With Crazy Stone being the highest grossing local film in China so far this year, it has certainly left an impression on moviegoers. No doubt due in part to a novel anti-piracy initiative, when its distributors released the film during a period where no foreign films were released in its cinemas. It was quickly followed up with the release of legitimate Region 6 DVDs tailored for local players, to dissuade bootleg copies.