BFI London Film Festival: Wrath of Silence (Bao lie wu sheng)

Wrath of Silence
Wrath of Silence (Bao lie wu sheng)
Directed by Xin Yukun
Starring Song Yang, Jiang Wu and Yuan Wenkang
Screening at LFF October 5th, 6th, 14th, 2017

by Richard Hamer

Zhang Baomin (Song Yang) returns to his home in northern China after the disappearance of his juvenile son. Zhang works as a miner, in a rural community that lives off the earth. In a land torn apart by mines, dotted with dustbowl villages that flirt with poverty, he searches in vain. Zhang is a mute, and his brusque, wordless manner of getting attention just gets him into a lot of fights, soon earning him the attention of local underworld boss Chang Wannian (played with just the right amount of villainous glee by Jiang Wu).

Wrath of Silence is a film that makes a lot of interesting style choices: Dialogue is understandably minimal. Its barren landscape of quarries and empty hills feel lonely and ominous; a backdrop to an eerie soundscape filled with the bleating of distant sheep, and the rumble of explosions far below. There is something of the classic master-less Samurai to Zhang; a lone hero travelling vast distances across an unforgiving land, looking for justice.

Yet for much of its run, this all adds up to an enjoyable, but unremarkable thriller: Visually sumptuous, well-choreographed, but ultimately set to a gentle, predictable rhythm. Chang Wannian makes for a cartoonish villain, his henchmen silly and disposable. The first two acts are shot through with enjoyable fight sequences, and interesting plot turns, but nothing hugely memorable.

But then something remarkable happens. Wrath of Silence reveals its true colours in a blistering and tragic final act. While the signs were always there, the sheer bleakness of its ending is nonetheless surprising, as is the sharpness of its social commentary. Its repeated motifs of lost sheep, churned up butcher’s meat, and the thunderous reports of the angry earth suddenly make sense. In a world in which the rich tear at the earth without license or responsibility, it is the workers – powerless, voiceless – who suffer and die. There is simply no easy justice, up in those vast and nameless hills.

Wrath of Silence is an unexpected highlight of the festival, one that takes its time, but never wastes yours. By the finish it proves itself to be a remarkable movie; one defined by a unique and powerful sadness, sure to stay with you.


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