At first glance, Absurd Accident (提着心吊着胆, lit. “carrying the heart, suspending the gall”) seems like a horror flick. Set in a placid village in rural China, the film has a murder plot, a dead body, and night drives through the forest. However, its English title and its trailer’s upbeat music foreshadow that Li Yuhe’s directorial debut film is in fact a comedy — an absurd comedy of errors.
Absurd Accident reveals its cast of characters one by one. First we meet the impotent Yang Baiwan, who dreams of his wife cheating on him with a neighborhood thief. As Yang awakes from his dream, he finds the same neighborhood thief and their accomplice dining in his noodle shop, flirting with his wife. Thus begins a sequence of unfortunate misunderstandings that lead to seemingly unconnected events. However, as we’re taken on a thrilling ride through this humble village, we discover — piece by piece — that all these puzzling happenings are in fact related.
Director Li’s decision to film the same event from different perspectives, and then to replay those those perspectives at different stages of the movie in order to slowly uncover previously unknown triggers for crazy events, is core to Absurd Accident‘s success. Admittedly, the film came off to a slow start–thirty minutes into it, I still thought it would be some dull country story about the life of China’s peasants. However, as the full picture of the story came together, the film’s tempo accelerated until I was on the edge of my seat.
Come to think of it, the film’s slower start could have been an intentional artistic choice. Li may have wanted to deliberately reinforce the audience’s biases about countryside life being boring, only to fantastically shatter these perceptions as night falls for Yang and his unexpected new acquaintances. Regardless of Li’s intentions, the end of the film left me happy and hungry for more; I’d love to see the aftermath of its absurd events.
The premise behind Absurd Accident could’ve easily led to a gruesome horror flick, but I’m glad that didn’t happen. Absurd Accident managed to take what could’ve been a dark plot and transform it into a true comedy of errors, without the overly raunchy flair that you might expect from a Chapman To comedy. The film reminded me of a Teresa Teng song, “Small Towns Have Many Stories” (English translation). Indeed, Absurd Accident shows us that despite the isolation of many of China’s rural villages, the people that live there still have exciting and interesting stories to tell.
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Absurd Accident (Chinese: 提着心吊着胆)—China. Directed by Li Yuhe. Screening at the Asian American Film Festival on 3 Aug, 2017. Running time 1hr 37 mins. Starring Chen Xixu, Gao Ye, Ren Suxi, Dong Bo, and Lou Yunfei.