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Huo Hu; Sparkling Fox

(Mandarin dialogue)

Cast:
The Thin One ... Gong Hanlin The Bearded One ... Tu Men Guizhi, His Wife ... Sharen Gaowa

(Mandarin dialogue)

Abasically simple yarn of two different types pursuing an elusive beast (and each other) in the snowy mountains, “Sparkling Fox” is a generally successful stab at metaphysical cinema by “Fifth Generation” Chinese director Wu Ziniu. Pic lacks the extra dramatic smarts for offshore theatrical outings, but fests and some TV sales should beckon.

Wu is best known in the West for the World War II drama “Evening Bell,” which copped a Special Jury Prize at Berlin in 1989 after being taken off the shelf by China’s censors, and 1988’s “The Last Day of Winter.” Current movie fits well into his oeuvre of inner psychological dramas without topping them in dramatic clout.

Film is first out of the hopper of Hong Kong-based Simpson Prods.’ four-picture slate assembling talent from the three Chinese territories. Others in the works are new films by the mainland’s Huang Jianxin (“Enchanted Autumn”), Hong Kong’s Derek Chiu (“Mr. Sardine”), and Taiwan’s Chang Tso-chi (“Midnight Revenge”). All are exec produced by H.K. helmer Jacob Cheung (“Cageman”).

“Fox” starts in buffish style with a nerdy theater projectionist (Gong Hanlin) announcing to patrons the final show at his family-owned cinema, due to close thanks to commercial pressures in contempo money-mad China. After a checkup with his doc, he decides to head for the mountains for a spot of hunting. His obsession with movies has already capsized his marriage to an ambitious beautician.

After firing at a mountain hunter (Tu Men), whom he mistakes for a fox, the two men strike up a cat-and-mouse relationship, pursuing each other through the snowy forests in between hunting a legendary red fox that nobody’s actually seen. A violent storm, impressively filmed, in which the hunter saves the nerd’s life, finally bonds them before the latter heads back to the city. Final scene, of the nerd meeting anothercity type on the way up, provides a neat ending.

In true “Hell in the Pacific” style, the duo are shown to be fighting the enemy within rather than anything more tangible, each drawn by an illusion that gives them some purpose in life. The city nerd proudly boasts he’s “in the film industry,” whereas his wife (in a withering, direct-to-camera monologue) describes him as basically stupid, with no redeeming qualities at all.

Aside from regular displays of one-upmanship between the two men, played in almost childlike fashion, the script contains few extra wrinkles to freshen the familiar subject matter. Ending is signaled early on, and the drama rarely plumbs the grim depths of Wu’s earlier works.

Huo Hu; Sparkling Fox

Production: A Simpson Prods. (Hong Kong)/Chang Chun Film Studio (China) production. (Intl. sales: Simpson Communication H.K.) Produced by Willy Tsao. Executive producer, Jacob C.L. Cheung. Directed by Wu Ziniu. Screenplay, Wu, Wang Chunbo.

Crew: Camera (color), Yang Wei; editor, Wang Xiaoming; art direction, Wu Yang; sound, Zhang Lei; associate producer, Fan Kim-hung. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (competing), Feb. 11, 1994. Running time: 99 MIN.

With: The Thin One ... Gong Hanlin The Bearded One ... Tu Men Guizhi, His Wife ... Sharen Gaowa

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