When an ambitious business venture—a dinosaur theme park—goes bad, a small-time broker Yang Hua finds himself with creditors at his door. Caught in an inextricable web of debt and desperation, his attempts to stay afloat only entrap him further, until his marriage to Miao Wei, the daughter of a wealthy family, threatens to implode. Impressive in scope and style, this suspenseful fable ricochets between Yang’s quiet panic and his fraught confrontations around the owed money.
The film is a compelling portrait of one man's undoing, while also serving as a critique of contemporary China and its embrace of capitalism. The desert setting of the titular city makes for some stunning landscape cinematography, as well as some audacious symbolic imagery. Zhou Ziyang, considered one of the most promising directors in Chinese cinema, uses one-shot takes to dramatic effect, drawing the viewer into the immediacy and chaos of the scenes. It’s an impactful watch that may leave you philosophizing about the cost of our reliance on consumerism. —Lucy Mukerjee
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Zhou Ziyang made his mark in the film industry with Old Beast, which won Best Original Screenplay at the Golden Horse Awards, Special Mention at Tokyo International Film Festival, and Best Young Director at China Film Director’s Guild.