Contributor; Derby, England

A man on the run from the law takes a last desperate journey into the wilderness and there confronts himself and his demons – Yuan Weidong's [i]Out of Control[/i] seems to have gone virtually unnoticed since its Chinese release last year. Is this another mainland attempt at Western genre movie tropes unlikely to win any fans outside the domestic market, or is it a film that deserves more attention? Find out after the break.

[i]([b]Please note![/b] To the best of my knowledge this film is [b]not[/b] commercially available with English subtitles. The DVD I watched did not possess them and I have found neither any online retailer selling a legitimate copy which does, nor any effort by fans to create their own subtitles. I am [b]not[/b] familiar with the language – I apologise in advance for any errors I have made or anything I've glossed over as a result. Feel free to correct me in the comments should you know any different!)[/i]

Whenever some big-budget Western commercial remake of some foreign genre film has been announced, in the heated debate that invariably follows people frequently ask why is it Hollywood needs to revisit ideas someone else has already explored? Why tell a story that's already been told? Curiously, few ever seem to bring up the argument there really aren't that many stories in the first place; after all, even the original Matrix is just the Hero's Journey filtered through a mish-mash of cosmopolitan pop culture from the past two decades.

Of course it's difficult to deny Hollywood has a less than stellar track record when it comes to this sort of thing, and expectations are invariably going to be lowered if a multinational corporation hands over a hefty sum for remake rights, as opposed to two relatively unknown filmmakers deciding on the same idea. Still, it seems odd glancing at the premise for Yuan Weidong's [i]Out of Control[/i] and thinking it feels uncannily similar to Glendyn Ivin's [i]The Last Ride[/i]. After a moment of madness changes his life for ever, a man flees into the wild on a journey with no end in sight – it seems a risky subject for a mainland Chinese director, given the rules and regulations imposed on a mainstream production.

Guo Tao ([i]Kidnap[/i], [i]Desires of the Heart[/i]) plays Guo Tao, a car salesman who snaps over a dispute with a particularly troublesome customer (veteran character actor Kent Cheng). Deciding to flee the scene of the crime rather than go to the authorities, Guo sets off to drive across the desert with his wife, Li Xiaoran (Li Xiaoran, [i]Dragon Tiger Gate[/i]). As the miles pass aimlessly by, in the wake of long periods of self-examination and recrimination the two of them slowly rekindle their long-dormant relationship.

Right from the start it's fairly evident Yuan is aiming to show us a fairly different take on the aftermath of a crime to most genre fare. This is a far more psychological approach, a character study rather than a thriller. We don't see the crime itself for quite some time; [i]Out of Control[/i] unfolds in two separate story threads, where one shows us the events leading up to the pivotal moment and the other follows Guo and his wife from shortly after they've begun their journey. The first is shot fairly similarly to many of the more recent mainland dramas aimed at the up-and-coming urban middle-class – the second is a much more free-wheeling affair, with scattered vignettes like dream sequences in between long moments of silence.

It is an absolutely beautiful film, either way, particularly given the limited budget (or so one would assume). The city backdrops in the first thread are filmed with an urgent, jittery handheld camera dotted with the odd quieter, more relaxed longer take, similar to Zhang Yibai's films ([i]Lost Indulgence[/i], [i]The Longest Night in Shanghai[/i]) if with a far more intimate focus. The second thread takes the fleeing couple through any number of truly stunning vistas, the desert a lonely, snowbound wilderness devoid of any human life for the most part. Yuan pulls out any number of visual tricks, distinctive locations and artful camera angles to avoid ending up with a simple travelogue. Like Zhang Yibai's cityscapes, or Lu Chuan's [i]Kekexili[/i], he manages to make what could have been fairly generic backdrops seem alien, otherworldly, and the image of a road headed nowhere remains a powerful symbol right up to the closing credits. The constant cross-cutting also helps to keep things relatively fresh.

All three of the leads deliver convincing performances; Kent Cheng receives far more screen time than might be expected, and adds a great deal of depth to what could have been a fairly throwaway part. Li Xiaoran proves a surprisingly compelling actress given her limited exposure outside mainland television. Frustratingly, though, Guo Tao proves the weakest of the trio; while never less than watchable, he seems to struggle to make enough of a transition between the two story threads. He emotes powerfully enough, but as the criminal on the run he still shows far too much of the smartly dressed businessman to be really convincing as someone whose life has fallen apart.

The visual gloss also proves one of [i]Out of Control[/i]'s weaknesses where occasionally, given the limited scope of the script, the movie can seem like the strangest car commercial ever filmed. Yuan largely avoids the kind of blatant framing shots or closeups that plagued productions like [i]Nightwatch[/i], [i]Daywatch[/i] or even the US television series [i]Heroes[/i], but the impression remains Nissan must have been more than happy with the end result (at least it does make a rather more restrained pitch for their product than, say, the Pang Brothers and [i]Abnormal Beauty[/i]'s bizarre shilling for Canon and Macintosh). Also, while the gorgeous settings and visual iconography belie any financial limitations, the film relies rather too heavily on what seems to be a fairly ambiguous ending, winding up the symbolism on a very artistic note which may strike some as overly forced.

Nonetheless, [i]Out of Control[/i] is a compelling, rewarding little film, which manages to take a well-worn narrative and invest it with a relatively distinctive spin. Smartly acted and directed, together with some haunting, evocative visuals that will stay with audiences for some time, it proves an entertaining watch even for the viewer with minimal knowledge of the Chinese language. For those in a similar situation willing to take a chance on the Chinese DVD, it comes highly recommended.

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Order the Chinese DVD of [i]Out of Control[/i] from YesAsia [url=http://www.yesasia.com/global/out-of-control-dvd-china-version/1013637148-0-0-0-en/info.html]here[/url]. (Remember, [b]no English subtitles![/b])

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