Crazy Stone Review

Supported by Andy Lau as part of Focus: First Cuts venture to give a platform (much needed) to fresh new Asian directing talent from mainland China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan, Crazy Stone is actually the third film from a promising new young Chinese director Ning Hao following his debut Incense and Mongolian Ping Pong, which was officially selected for the 2005 Berlin Film Festival. A comedy-actioner, billed as a Chinese version of Ocean’s Eleven, Crazy Stone certainly doesn’t seem to offer anything new to the heist movie genre that is well-played out in Hong Kong and Hollywood, but the proceedings are somewhat distinguished by a refreshing low-budget sense of fun and attitude.

Director Xie is under pressure from a crooked real-estate businessman who wants to own and develop the land his factory is on, but he is determined to hold out long enough to finish an excavation into what was a former temple in order to see if he can recover any valuable artefacts. One valuable piece of jade has already been uncovered and is on display at the Lohan Temple. Bao and his brother San Bao have been given the job of guarding the stone while it is on display, but since Xie is somewhat short of money, he has hired them on the cheap – even using a modified sensor from a urinal as their infra-red detection device.

Two gangs of crooks are after the jewel - one a highly trained professional, hired by the businessman who wants to own the land that the factory occupies, the other a gang of incompetent small-time con-men who just happen to have picked up the professional’s equipment in a street robbery. What they both don’t realise is that the owner’s son has already pulled a switch to give the precious stone to a woman he wants to impress, so when they both attempt the robbery at the same time, everyone masked and dressed in black and only a urinal sensor to protect the jade stone, confusion inevitably ensues...

...and hopefully a certain amount of humour. There are no big-name stars and no big budget here, the film shot on HD-DV in small-town Chongqing, and it’s all to the film’s benefit. One scene in particular is emblematic of the approach employed here. The high-tech Ocean’s Eleven-style approach to the burglary is made fun of, as the professional burglar dangles on a chord that isn’t quite long enough, while one of the bumbling incompetent crooks walks up and lifts the stone from under his nose. Adding to this sense of irony evident throughout, where everyone goes to extreme lengths to earn money and get rich (a reflection perhaps on modern Chinese attitudes?) – it can be difficult to tell whether it’s the original stone they are stealing or a fake.

With so much switching and double-switching, coincidences and chance encounters - the crooks and the security guards live side by side in the same rundown hotel and frequently ...uh into each other on the street - this could be very confusing were it not for Ning Hao’s very clear directing style. The director employs Guy Ritchie inspired effects and Memento-style flashbacks, freeze-framing and replaying events from different perspectives, giving the viewer time to digest the intricacy of the situations while enjoying the flash, colourful cinematography. The camera trickery is not overdone either - employed only at those certain key moments to pace and punctuate the film. True, there's little that is unique in this style and a lot of the situations are familiar heist movie conventions - and apart from the aforementioned Guy Richie’s films, there are even plenty of good comedy heist movies (Welcome To Collinwood, Woody Allen’s Small Time Crooks or Take The Money And Run) with more humour and imagination on display than here in Crazy Stone, but it’s in the small incidental details that the film, with its low-budget style that mirrors the low-tech and low-brow slapstick of the situation, that the director finds his own comedy pace and style.

Crazy Stone is released in Hong Kong by First Cuts. The DVD is in NTSC format and is region-free.

The film is transferred anamorphically at its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Looking like it was filmed on DV, the image is rather dark and colours deeply saturated - but not overly so - allowing detail and definition to remain visible in interiors, exterior shots and even dark tunnels. The image is free from any marks and the transfer remains stable with no sign of macroblocking compression elements or edge-enhancement, but it is unfortunately interlaced, which causes quite a bit of movement blurring.

The original soundtrack uses a local Chongqing Mandarin dialect and is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. A Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 track is also included. The original soundtrack is excellent, perfectly mixed and spread across the surround system. Dialogue is mainly centre channel and is clear and audible throughout, but the film makes strong use of the wider front speakers for effects and soundtrack. The use of rear speakers is not obvious, but subtly used in appropriate places to create a more enveloping atmosphere.

English subtitles are provided in a clear white font. Things don't bode well when one of the first lines in the film spells “relax” as “relex”, but I didn’t notice any other problems with spelling or grammar anywhere else throughout the film.

The main extra features relating to the film are a Trailer (2:33), presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen and a Making Of (28:28), which is almost entirely made up of interviews with the director and cast. Neither of these features are subtitled in English. The promotional material for the Focus: First Cuts however contains fixed English subtitles. This consists of a Showreel and Trailers for I’ll Call You, Shoe Fairy, Rain Dogs and Love Story. There is also a Photo Gallery (0:59) which can be navigated through or viewed as a slideshow.

In as far as it goes, Crazy Stone is a well enough made comedy heist movie which has the low-budget charm of a Chinese take on the slicker, flashier likes of Ocean’s Eleven and Snatch. It shows a young director with some capability, but not enough originality in either the style or treatment to really distinguish it from countless similar US or Hong Kong action comedies. Apart from an interlaced transfer and unsubtitled extra features, the presentation on this Hong Kong DVD edition is otherwise excellent.

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