We often hear the hero of “Life is Cheap” tell in harsh voiceover. He describes his mission, the people he meets, and his observations of life in the Neon Dream City in the years before the British ceded to China. He wonders what’s in the briefcase and why its recipient behaved in such a strange way.
But then the film will go on for a long time without any narration, or without even seeing the hero. What a story there is is interrupted (from the very beginning of the film!) by disruptive flash cuts. Some are barely readable visually: a red flash; a glimpse of what the leader on a film reel might look like. Others disturb. Many sequences have secondary characters addressing the camera, which represents the hero, and Wang stays on them for so long that they turn into little documentary-style character portraits of eccentrics and possibly dangerous individuals. , from the man who offers “sexy dancing” tutorials. to the porn producer who is casually accused of a horrific crime. There is a recurring close-up image of a severed man’s hand with a meat cleaver on his wrist, his bones chopped and oozing veins visible on camera, as well as a long shot of a severed hand on a pristine white hospital bed and a white ceramic bowl filled with diluted blood nearby. Are we seeing the fate of the hero? Is the whole movie a deathbed memory or a premonition?
For the re-edit, Wang also added never-before-seen low-resolution video footage he shot on location in Hong Kong during production. The material mostly appears in a long, unannounced and unexplained block of footage about a third of the way through. We see actors we’ve met in character before, on location. They seem to repeat. There are also images of ordinary life on the streets of Hong Kong, including a butcher at work and a man on a stretcher being loaded into the back of an ambulance by paramedics. One could say that this material ruins any concept or proper business rhythm if there was any indication that Wang enjoyed such things. To be precise, he cares a lot about an audience-friendly pace in his other films. Not so much in this one, which sticks to its own internal metronome and in some ways feels like an inversion of some of its concerns in “Chan is Missing,” an indie classic about then-Chinese Americans and a meditation on assimilation.
It’s a tough movie to watch at times – and for decades it’s been a tough one to watch, period. It’s not the kind of film that can be fairly judged by conventional criteria. It has a punk rock sensibility that ties it to other notable films by great new independent directors that emerged in the 80s and 90s, such as Gus Van Sant (“My Own Private Idaho”), Alex Cox (“Repo Man”). , Jane Campion (“Sweetie”) and Gregg Araki (“The Doom Generation”), plus high profile studio ringtones from the likes of Scorsese and Oliver Stone (including the latter’s “Natural Born Killers” and “U-Turn” ). It seems like an uncompromising film, with all the qualities that phrase suggests.
Now play BAM.