Director/co-writer (along with Fernando Bonassi) Yu Lik-wai has feasted on Fendou Liu’s screenplay, the considerable acting skills of Anthony Wong Chau-Sang as Yuda and the undeniably camera-friendly looks (physical and emotional) of Joe Odagiri to come up with a film that says so many things about so many issues (poverty, crime, corruption, revenge, treachery, blind loyalty and murder—to name just a few) that it’s difficult to get his point—or perhaps that is the point.
“Why does everyone need a father?” wonders Kirin (Odagiri) whose parents were shot nearly a quarter-century ago clutching precious gold in the jungle but never realizing its value. The young boy was saved by Yuda who essentially adopted the instant orphan and raised him to become his trusted lieutenant in the illicit import/export business in Sao Paulo whose motto “our merchandise is fake but our money is real” is touted with pride as their fortune is made duping consumers with knockoff brand names at a fraction of their price.
They are so successful that others want a piece of the action, including Americans and Taiwanese. The globalization of greed is perhaps the most timeless of the plot lines.
Kirin’s love interest comes in the shapely form of Rita (Tainá Müller) who displays her all at the Devil’s Club—an upscale bar that features erotic dancers that can be bedded in one of the private booths. When it’s Kirin’s turn to ravish the entirely willing beauty (they have vague plans to escape their current lives and raise her fatherless son … ), Rita insists on cracking an egg and using its white as lube—a tasty metaphor indeed. Like much of the plot lines, her appearance begins with promise then fades into unresolved limbo as does Yuda’s relationship with his devoted, if frequently abandoned, woman (the club’s Madame).
The political desire of a Brazilian government minister to give the appearance of cracking down on the hugely lucrative buy-and-sell trade fills many minutes, revealing the news flash that you can’t trust anybody including your best friend. Before you can say “double cross” Yuda is in jail only to drive “son” Kirin to his rescue and release armed with a baby crocodile.
As the script lumbers on, the “thriller” storyline drifts into the background—replaced with disparate (and desperate) scenes ranging from Yuda’s finding God, to a horrific bloodbath (Kirin’s young warriors are urged to enter the battle “wanting to die”) on a pillar of cement that is brutal enough to send the squeamish out of the theatre. In some ways they were lucky. After the carnage, Lik-wai and Co. can’t seem to find a suitable ending so several are presented. A couple of surprises (apparently inserted to bring the action full circle from the parents’ killing field) fail to satisfy or bring any sort of convincing closure.
Like the genuine-imitation running shoes from the early going, this film looks good at first glance but doesn’t stand up to a close examination. JWR