Michael Hui, Na Dow, Leon Dai, Matt Wu, Tou Chung-hwa
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Godspeed maintains sharp tension between absurdist black comedy and darker crime saga.
The secret weapon of Chung Mong-hong’s downbeat gangster road movie Godspeed is its versatility. Here is a genre picture that clearly takes cues from Tarantino, both in its passages of garrulous dialogue and the nasty bursts of violence, yet is tinged with regret that lends it maturity and real staying power.
The Taiwan of Chung’s film is one of expressways and secluded rendezvous houses, the unconventional and unshowy location work heightening the impression that the rootless characters in this world spend eternity on the road. As a drug deal heads south, taking a capricious toll in lives, an unwitting drug mule finds himself involuntarily intertwined with a struggling taxi driver, and the result is a legitimately great screen partnership. Veteran Hong Kong comedian Michael Hui delivers a deeply compelling performance, ingratiating himself with his constant salesman’s chant of ‘little boss’ and proffering unwelcome grandfatherly wisdom. The real achievement, though, is the way Hui conveys his character’s unspoken internal conflict and misgivings: in one of several discursions, he manages to make a simple story about eating dumplings on his family unexpectedly affecting. Taiwanese comedian Na Dow, insouciantly blank, plays off him amusingly as the exasperated other half of the double act.
Tonally, Godspeed maintains sharp tension between absurdist black comedy and darker crime saga; there is a gruesome scene of torture involving a helmet that could slot (un)comfortably into the annals of Asian extreme cinema. The two parallel storylines don’t necessarily fit together particularly well, yet always the lingering sense of timor mortis keeps things piquant. And the film is worth seeing just for its lead performance, which deserves all the acclaim it will receive.