Review: STREETWISE, Neon Colored, Rain Soaked Chinese Neo Noir
Na Jiazuo directed the Chinese-language neo-noir, starring Li Jiuxiao, Huang Miyi, Sha Baoliang, and Yao Lu.
Na Jiazuo's rain soaked neonoir, Streetwise, gets a much-deserved theatrical run stateside. I say this because it's just gorgeous to look at in its grimy, urban decay glory.
The film is set in Zhenwu in Sichuan province in the early 2000s, where economic growth has considerably cooled, and once bustling streets are now deserted and shops shuttered. There's a sense of hopelessness in the air.
Streetwise tells of a group of the lonely, lost souls who occupy these wet, decaying dwellings and their sordid lives fatefully entwined like a tangled web that they can't escape from. Zidong (Li Jiuxiao), a gawky young man, is first seen tearing up a mahjong parlor where a debtor hangs out. He is a muscle man for a wry debt collector, Jun, who walks with a limp, probably from some shenanigans from his shady past. By the looks of it, Zidong is a rookie at whatever he does, with Jun constantly showing him the ropes.
Zidong keeps borrowing money from the local tattoo artist Jiu (Huang Miyi) to pay for his dad's mounting medical bills. Dad, once a leader of the street gang, due to his age and health, is forever committed to a hospital bed. Still spry, he still gets into fights and unsavory situations.
Zidong and Jiu seem to have a special relationship where they keep each other company without wanting anything other than consoling their loneliness. Their relationship is a purely platonic one, like that of brother and sister. And they might as well be; Zidong's dad keeps insisting that she is bad luck and they shouldn't ever sleep with each other, not only because she is the ex-wife of the boss, known as Four, the head of a local gang who oversees Jun and Zidong, but also was a protégé of Zidong's dad.
Zidong and Jiu contemplate skipping town and going to live somewhere else countless times, even though they don't know where to go. Four, getting rejected repeatedly by Jiu for his pleas to get back together, is getting antsy about Zidong hanging around the tattoo parlor too much. In the meantime, Jun plots revenge after Four humiliates him in front of everyone.
Everyone in Streetwise is trying to run away from something: the past, dire financial circumstances, love, misplaced loyalty, and themselves. Yet they fail to do so. They can't get away from their own reflections in the putrid puddles, strewn with trash in the street. Jiu briefly leaves the cursed town, only to come back for Zidong and confront her fate.
In the role of Zidong, Li bristles with youthful energy and puppy dog innocence. Huang, a graceful beauty, reminds me a lot of a young Shu Qi.
Na creates a perfect neon colored urban purgatory where lost souls can't ever leave. Everything has a hazy, dreamy, not quite real feel in Streetwise. Even crowded places like karaoke bars or hospital elevators have an otherworldly quality.
No one is purely evil or saintly. Everyone has baggage and a weak spot for certain things or someone. It's that sinewy human connections that Na explores with exceptional visuals and everyday poetry.
Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musings and opinions on everything cinema and beyond can be found at www.dustinchang.com
- Jiazuo Na
- Jiazuo Na
- Miyi Huang
- Jiuxiao Li
- Yao Lu