No Man's Land

Directed by Ning Hao, 宁浩 and Hao Ning

Starring Zheng Xu, Huang Bo, Nan Yu, Tao Hong and Duobuji

The film starts with a story about how two monkeys band together and cooperate to survive in the wild, which is used to illustrate how human society is formed. By casting its characters in a desolate, uninhabited no man's land, the film explores the tension between human's animal instincts and their socially constructed selves. Pan Xiao, a young middle-class lawyer played by Xu Zheng, goes to a rural western town in the desert to handle the case of a falcon poacher who ran over and killed a policeman. Pan wins the case through sophisticated reasoning, forces the poacher to give him his car as a reward and begins to drive home. But unbeknownst to Pan, the car is carrying stolen falcons and before long he runs into a series of unlucky accidents and meets some unsavory characters. After he loses his glasses and accidentally hits another poacher (Huang Bo of Lost in Thailand), Pan is consumed by fear and guilt, and embarks on a real and metaphorical journey back to civilization.


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  • ★★★½ review by Leon Li on Letterboxd

    In China, December is a peculiar protective month for Chinese films since we are embracing new arrivals which are exclusively made in China (with few exceptions due to bizarre co-distribution policies, for instance WELCOME TO THE PUNCH 2013, which is doomed to be swamped by its formidable competitors), but Ning’s latest offer NO MAN’S LAND is an even odder case, it actually was filmed in 2009 before his previous picture GUNS N’ ROSES (2012, 6/10), however it failed the censorship and had been pushed back until now, meanwhile its leading actor Zheng Xu has become the most successful director himself (his director debut LOST IN THAILAND 2012 has been the highest grossing Chinese film of all time, more than 1.2 billion Chinese yuan in all), and co-star Bo Huang presently is one of the most popular and bankable actor. Thus, if we disregard the protracted modulate process to pander to the despicable censorship, financially speaking, the timing cannot be better!

    Since CRAZY STONE (2006, 8/10) Ning has accrued a solid fan base and is one of the most prominent directors of his peers, NO MAN’S LAND ventures into a territory where Chinese films scarcely enter, Western, more specifically, it is a road movie sets within a 500 mile no man’s wilderness, Xu is an uprising lawyer just won a lawsuit for a callous falcon hunter (Duobujie), when Xu drives the hunter’s car (as his reward) back to city, en route in the bare desert, a series of mishaps successively occur, which encompasses a killer (Huang), a prostitute (Yu), two lorry drivers (Ba and Wang), the owner of a tourist trap (Yang) and his retarded son (Pei Wang), while the ultimate boss of the catch and release is the hunter himself, who harbors a vicious scheme to both carry the contraband to the buyers and get rid of the snobbish lawyer.

    Nevertheless Man proposes but God disposes, the Domino effect starts with one single sputum, everything starts to run amok. Ning does go to great length to make all the incidents sound logical, there is plethora of human stains among these boors, self-seekers, extortioners, poachers and murderers, the only counterbalance is the goodhearted but frail sex worker, who assumes a pivotal impetus for Xu’s heroic self-sacrifice. The vast Gobi desert provides a stupefying outlook to inspect the good and the evil stem from one’s heart, violence abounds, the rule of survival turns citizens into voracious animals.

    Highlight from the cast, Duobujie is a Chinese analog of Jarvier Bardem in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007, 9/10), the action chick Nan Yu retreats back into a stereotyped damsel-in-distress niche but is tellingly watchable. Bo Huang brings about the same sum of trembles and laughters with empowering swagger, and by design our heart roots for Xu’s character, whose ill-fated story strikes a chord although his loft transition is a bit too intentional for a heroic cause, like the bombastic ending.

    Clearly the cast has undergone some physical maltreatment during the filming, under the extreme weather and locale, and the final product is principally recommendable for its sleek plot twists, waggish dialogue and highly entertaining cat-and-mouse chases and skirmishes, but bearing in mind Hao Ning’s reputation as Chinese Guy Ritchie or Quentin Tarantino, NO MAN’S LAND could be more unorthodox and maybe its original version is, but woefully we would never know.

  • ★★★★ review by Jussi Hulkkonen on Letterboxd

    Ning Hao's absurdist, mad-cap comedic sensibility steeped in the pitch black immorality and nihilism of neo-noir with a distinctly Coen-esque tone in its story of craven, ruthless characters caught in a mutually destructive spiral. The film is a startling, brute force satire fueled by a deeply cynical perspective on humanity in modern China.

    The film's ostensible hero, for all his moralizing and existential philosophizing, is just as petty and quick to anger as the back-woods criminals that surround him. The film's hard bitten morality only allows for incremental salvation, no one can truly be saved (aside from a tacked on saccharine epilogue) their only hope is in sacrificing their interests for those of another, humanity is only possible through community.

    The film's visual aesthetic is a perfect mix of the stark, dark nights and desolate roads of western neo-noirs like Blood Simple or Red Rock West and the sun scorched, dried up deserts of Leone's spaghetti westerns.

  • ★★★½ review by Robert Saucedo on Letterboxd

    In the vein of A Simple Plan, this shit sprawling out of control film is great - if only because it taught me how seriously the Chinese take their hawk poaching.

  • ★★★★ review by Phil Gillon on Letterboxd

    No Man's Land review

    Director: Ning Hao

    Stars: Xu Zheng, Duo Bujie, Yu Nan and Huang Bo

    Ning Hao returns from the wilderness and enters the dessert in this western road movie akin to Mad Max but will it be a road warrior or just leave you mad.

    Lawyer Pan (Xu Zheng) travels to the dessert to where he succeeds in defending his client Lao (Duo Bujie) , as they talk about payment for his services Pan takes Lao's car as collateral and drives home through the Gobi dessert. Things don't go as planned for Pan after knocking down a poacher (Huang Bo) and thinking he's killed him sets off to try and dispose of the body. On his travels he stops at a down and dirty pit stop that has a family that resembles something from deliverance , a prostitute (Yu Nan) who is desperate to leave the pit stop, a couple of truckers and Lao who wants his car back. What ensues is a race across the dessert and pan examining his own morales as he himself breaks the law to try and survive.

    Check out the full review here

  • ★★★½ review by nuguya on Letterboxd

    진빠지는 영화 어휴 힘들다 힘들어

    초반이 좀 늘어지고 후반은 너무 급 전개

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