Truthfully, I didn’t know what to expect when I hit play on Dayyan Eng’s latest film, Inseparable. A look at the cover had me curious, a look at the cast had me interested and a look at its location had me sold.
But, if you’re expecting Inseparable to be Kick-Ass, it isn’t. If you’re expecting it to be Kevin Spacey at his usually
susexpected self, he isn’t. If you’re expecting it to be your typical Chinese film, it (mostly) is not.
The film centres around a rather troubled Li (HK star Danial Wu), a young professional in Guangzhou who recently suffered the loss of his parents and his unborn son. Li’s marriage is floundering, his career is a mess, and his goldfish is dead. Things are looking grim, and the noose hanging from the ceiling more and more appealing. Enter Li’s quirky American neighbour, Chuck (Kevin Spacey, who absolutely butchers several lines of mandarin with a smile of self-deprecation that only Kevin Spacey can deliver).
Chuck convinces Li to “live free or die trying” (no points for dialog) via a series of escalating phases to free Li’s mind and find his true calling. This results in Li donning a Lei Feng superhero costume going after a manufacturer of poisoned tofu, and a foreign-run company selling placebo folic acid supplements (which resulted in the miscarriage of Li’s son-to-be).
Toss in a moral dilemma at work, a rather duplicitous relationship with his investigative reporter wife (played by Eng’s go-to girl Gong Beibi), and a solid dollop of psychosis; you get a movie that seems to enjoy muddling the barriers between drama, comedy, and surreal thriller.
Despite enjoying the film, the superhero stuff was the one part that really irritated me. Not the concept, but the way Eng so painfully panders to censors and Chinese nationalism with his chosen villains. The first baddie was the always excellent Peter Stormare, an executive of a pharma company that cost-cuts the folic acid out of their folic acid pregnancy supplement. The insult to Stormare wasn’t that his role was so minimal, nor even that he was forced to crawl around in a diaper. It was that a Chinese film couldn’t even find the balls to poke social commentary at the fact that it is Chinese companies poisoning the country, but instead it had to be an evil imperialist foreigner. It was annoying.
For his second bad guy Eng pushes closer to the line — an evil mafia-like ring of tofu makers that are using formaldehyde. We never actually see them, but they’re presumed to be Chinese, as it’s a Chinese guy that leads Li to them … erm… well, their empty shack. But just in case its fiery destruction hurts the feelings too much, Eng carefully inserts a scene where Li attacks an innocent Chinese tofu seller, wrongfully assuming he was selling the poisoned tofu. “Just because one apple is bad, doesn’t mean they all are,” helpfully later explains the police officer with a kind benevolent smirk.
In the end Inseparable doesn’t go anywhere other movies haven’t gone before, nor does it do it all that uniquely. However, what it does do is deliver it all in a quirky enough package, with actors that are easy enough to like, and with a comfortable enough mix of Chinese and Western themes that you don’t walk away feeling like you wasted its relatively short running time.
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