Film noir is defined as much by atmosphere as by any other visual or narrative attribute. The first film by director Dong Yue, a noted cinematographer, is drenched in heavy weather per the title. Ostensibly a murder mystery, The Looming Storm tries to say many things about its milieu—a factory town that’s slowly dying—and how it affects people who have perhaps had their hopes elevated too high.
The story is set in 1997, the year Deng Xiaopeng died and Hong Kong reverted to Chinese authority. As part of these stunning changes a large factory complex in a rural burg is being gradually decommissioned. Yu (Duan Yihong), the security chief for the factory who tends to cruise through his job by catching (framing?) the occasional thieving employee, is anxious about his own position, but he tends to act as if there’s nothing to worry about. As the movie progresses ever downward, Yu’s fate becomes inextricably tied to the fortunes of the town.
The incident that launches his downfall is the gruesome murder of a woman, the fourth in a series that follows a creepy pattern. Naturally, the town’s police are on the case, and they question Yu about workers who might be suspects. Yu plays up his importance in the investigation in the hopes that sucking up to the right people and impressing them with his own police skills will get him a job with the constabulary, but his own gumshoe techniques turn out to be severely wanting, and it hardly helps that his closest assistant, Xiao (Zheng Wei), is as dumb as a doornail. His desperation leads him to a shadowy figure and a chase that, at first, feels gratuitous in terms of length and complexity, and when he fails to catch his quarry he decides to use a prostitute-cum-beautician (Jiang Yiyan) with whom he has struck up a listless romance as bait without her knowing it.
So far, The Looming Storm has all the required elements of a potent noir, and then the movie shifts gears, heading into territory as murky as the rain-drenched mise-en-scene. It becomes increasingly difficult to tell what’s real, what’s plausible, and what’s illusion. What started as an intriguing allegory about the beginning of the end of Chinese optimism ends up as yet another stylish, Lynchian descent into garbled fantasy. You’ll leave the movie feeling as gray as the landscape.
In Mandarin. Now playing in Tokyo at Shinjuku Musashinokan (03-3354-5670), Human Trust Cinema Yurakucho (03-6259-8608).
The Looming Storm home page in Japanese.
photo (c) 2017 Century Fortune Pictures Corp. Ltd.