Kevin Spacey? In a Chinese movie? Speaking (a little) Mandarin? You’ve, got to be kidding right?…
(Warning, this review contains spoilers!)
Li (Daniel Wu, Divergence, Overheard 2, Shinjuku Incident, Protege) is a young professional quite literally at the end of his tether: his wife has miscarried, his parents have just died in a car accident, he’s being coerced into lying at product tribunal and his marriage is on the rocks. He’s just about to hang himself when Chuck (Kevin Spacey, The Usual Suspects, American Beauty, L.A. Confidential) knocks on his door claiming to be a new neighbour.
Chuck takes Li under his wing, helping with troubles at work and his relationship with his wife (Gong Beibi, Connected, The Founding Of A Republic, The Detective 2 aka B+ Detective). But things take a darker turn when he suggests they patrol the streets like superheroes, and Li’s sanity starts to come into question…
It’s easy to get a bit distracted by the superhero references in writer/director Dayyan Eng’s (Waiting Alone, Bus 44) black comedy, but there’s more to Inseparable than that. Sure, offbeat takes on superheroes seem to have become as commonplace as the big-budget mainstream – even if that mainly seems to involve various combinations of Marvel comics Avengers right now. (Sigh…) This may be in wake of Kick-Ass, but has more of the ambiguity of Hal Haberman’s Special, via David Fincher’s Fight Club.
(Now the spoilers really begin…)
The revealer for Li’s psychotic break is pretty obvious, but there’s much more to enjoy in Dayyan Eng’s hilarious script. For once the Western acting avoids the rigidity and awkward phrasing so often found in Asian productions, and Kevin Spacey himself is on fine form as Chuck, in a way he rarely gets a chance to be nowadays. (Although the Mandarin speakers in the audience on the screening at the Terracotta Festival seemed most amused by his mangling of the language!)
I’m not convinced this is the first time a Hollywood star has appeared in a Chinese production, as has been widely reported. I remember Donald Sutherland starring in Feng Xiaogang’s Da Wan, also known as Big Shot’s Funeral. As it happen’s there’s also an appearance by another actor best know for his roles in the States, Peter Stormare (Fargo, The Big Lebowski, Armageddon).
What this isn’t, by any means, is a Chinese movie trying to be a Hollywood one, but it’s not exactly a Chinese movie either – at least not as we understand it. Chinese-American Dayyan Eng and his American lead star create a very unique voice and perspective, one that speaks to modern professionals in Beijing, and bigger cities in China.
And perhaps that’s all there is to it, but I couldn’t help wondering if some wry comment on China’s identity crisis was involved; about the aspiration to Western things and the West’s involvement in China’s companies. Chuck is the loud, obnoxious, American-sized elephant in the room. When the pair take to the streets to look for trouble, they head to the shopping district, passing big Western brands like Starbucks, McDonalds and Gucci. And then there’s Peter Stormare’s nefarious, greedy businessman. Chuck, it seems, is an aspect of the Chinese psyche that it needs to come to terms with…
Or am I reading too much into it?
It’s an effective comedy with fine performances from Daniel Wu, Gong Beibi (who so far has appeared in all Dayyan Eng’s films so far, and an all too fleeting appearance from Hong Kong legend Kenneth Tsang (Overheard 2, The Touch, The Killer, A Better Tomorrow II). Sure, the inclusion of Kevin Spacey may attract audiences that might not normally see a Chinese film, but this should please Asian fans and mainstream audiences alike.
Inseparable was screened on 15 April as part of the Terracotta Far East Film Festival 2012, and is released on UK DVD by Matchbox Films on 19 August 2013.
Review originally published 25 April 2012.