Film Review: Absurd Accident

Cops, crooks and cuckolds stumble over a corpse in a clever black comedy from China.
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Starting with erectile dysfunction and zipping into blackmail, burglary, assault and murder for hire, Absurd Accident plays out like a Chinese Fargo. Trapped in a wintry backwater, its hapless, not-very-nice characters spend their time trying to cheat their companions or evade the law. Not nearly as nasty as the Coen Brothers, writer and first-time director Li Yuhe casts a sunny tone over the proceedings, taking the bite out of this black comedy.

Yang Baiwan (Chen Xixu) not only can't get an erection, he's convinced his wife Ma Lilian (Gao Ye) is cheating on him. They run an isolated inn and noodle restaurant, Yang dropping their profits on local quack Bi Jianxiao's (Cao Rui) snake oil and "slapping" therapy while Lilian flirts with everyone she sees.

After starting a fight with two mysterious customers and hearing ugly rumors about Lilian in town, Yang asks Bi to find a hitman to kill her. Bi takes on the job himself, only to be thrashed that night by a drunken Lilian. A remorseful Yang returns to the inn to find what he thinks is Bi's corpse in the parking lot.

Yang and Lilian will spend the rest of the movie trying to dispose of Bi without being caught by Huang (Chen Chumsheng), a tired cop on his last shift before retiring. Huang has his hands full trying to clear up a motorcycle accident, a jewel robbery, and the weirdly conflicting stories of He Nuli (Dong Bo) and Gu (Ren Suxi), out on a blind date that goes badly haywire. It will take several concussions and coincidences to sort out the convoluted plot.

Li Yuhe aims for the deadpan noir of movies like Chongqing Hot Pot and Mr. Donkey, and for much of the time he hits a sweet spot between goofy and cruel. That's largely thanks to the cast rather than the writing. Gao Ye and especially the angular Ren Suxi (who turned every one of her scenes in Mr. Donkey into gold) somehow remain appealing no matter what their characters wind up doing. Repressing his growing anger and frustration as the night wears on, the tightlipped Chen Chumsheng is also a delight.

Too cute by half, the script circles back on itself at least once too often, each storyline crisscrossing in contrived patterns. Those noodle customers, that jewelry robbery, the missing body—they all click into place too conveniently. But if its structure occasionally gets in the way, Absurd Accident's hangdog humor rarely fails.

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