Yimou Zhang has made some absolutely wonderful films over the years, including “Hero” and “House of Flying Daggers.” His films typically delve into China’s past and complement historical stories with larger-than-life acrobatics and martial arts action. Zhang once again trains his lens on the past with “Impasse,” but this time it’s to the era of WWII. “Impasse” follows a group of Chinese special agents who are working in Manchukuo, an area of China ruled by the occupying Japanese empire.
Any notions this will be a fun movie are dispelled early as we watch Japanese soldiers summarily executing their enemies, first by spitting whisky on them before delivering the final bullet. The team of Chinese spies has been betrayed but by whom? Many of tropes of the spy genre are here, notably the hats and not being sure whom you can trust. But put your expectations on hold if you’re looking for another high-flying martial arts extravaganza from Zhang. This is deadly serious business, and the stakes for the characters are high. There isn’t even time for levity or humor; death is around every corner.
It’s a departure for Zhang, and fans of his earlier films (myself among them) will likely be disappointed. Yes, this is a very important chapter of recent Chinese history, and absolutely nothing about it was pleasant, but the mystique and whimsy of Zhang’s earlier films is missing.
History is important to teach and learn from, and “Impasse” offers at least a a primer in Japanese occupation of China during wartime, but the film nonetheless feels cold and distant. The main characters feel interchangeable, and as many of them will wind up dead anyway, it’s best not to get too attached to them.
I feel there’s a better film hiding somewhere inside “Impasse” and maybe a change in tone would have helped coax it out.
Film is now available on-demand (featured image is a still from “Impasse”)
Toni Collette stars as Jan Vokes, a real-life Welsh horse rider working several dead-end jobs to make ends meet. One day while pouring at the pub where she moonlights, Jan overhears a wealthy gambler (Damian Lewis) talking with his mates about horse racing, and the money involved for those who might back a winner. Intrigued and determined and somehow coming up the cash rather quickly Jan purchases a breeding horse in the hopes of giving birth to a racing horse. The plan works (this is a true story, remember), but Jan can only make this plan viable if she gets her fellow villagers to drop cash into the venture collectively. Like all movie small towns, everyone comes to the rescue, and it’s off to the races.
“Dream Horse” is indeed a feel-good flick—and little more. In “Dream,” the racing horse, Jan and her fellow villages find purpose, and the equine rescues them as much as they rescue the horse, if you follow. There’s nothing per se wrong about “Dream Horse,” and it delivers precisely the kind of optimism many are no doubt craving right now, but there’s also not much to recommend it, either.
Still, there are worse ways to spend two hours.
“Dream Horse” rolls out into theaters on May 21st and will be available on-demand June 11th