So many films and TV shows have sentimentalized gangsters that the casual brutality early in Chinese writer-director Cheng Er’s new film, The Wasted Times, comes as a relief.
Mister Lu (Ge You), a Mob boss in 1930s Shanghai, presents another man with a box that contains the severed hand of the man’s wife, complete with the jade bracelet the boss had given her as a gift. In the next scene a bright-eyed young man from the countryside confesses his virginity to another henchman as they ride on one side of a car, and then we see the other side, where the man who received the box sits, now badly beaten, tied up, and about to be killed.
The majority of the characters murder or are murdered in short order, so finding someone to root for or a storyline to follow in this strangely empty Shanghai (even the train station looks abandoned) is difficult. The film pointlessly jumps back and forth in time, so the beautiful, stylish woman (the costumes make The Handmaiden‘s seem ugly and unflattering by comparison) we see in the back of a car at the beginning is revealed later as the chatterbox and self-described “slut” Liu Xiao (Zhang Ziyi).
But we barely get to enjoy her sexy, funny backstory before the “surprise” over-the-top villain rapes her (in a scene much more explicit than her consensual encounters) and abducts her to live out a 1930s Chinese version of Room.
The Wasted Times
Written and directed by Cheng Er
Opens December 16, AMC Empire 25