A cross-racial love story set in Paris' oriental district ends up as more "Ouest Side Histoire" than "Romeo et Juliette" in Karim Dridi's "Rage." Pic could reap moderate returns within Gaul, but looks to fall in the gap between arty and more accessible fare offshore.

A cross-racial love story set in Paris’ oriental district ends up as more “Ouest Side Histoire” than “Romeo et Juliette” in Karim Dridi’s “Rage.” Leaving the gritty ambience of earlier movies like “Pigalle” and “Bye-Bye” behind, but opting for a colorful, semi-stylized look rather than poetry, Dridi tells a straightforward yarn of an affair between a Spanish-French garage owner and a Chinese waitress that ends with predictably combustible results. An easy sit, but with little aftertaste, pic could reap moderate returns within Gaul, but looks to fall in the gap between arty and more accessible fare offshore.

Tunisian-born Dridi has always been fascinated by Paris’ cosmopolitan mix, and fell on his face when he tried something different and more mainstream with the comedy “Foul Play” (1998). “Rage” returns to his favorite beat, among first- and second-generation immigrants in working-class Paris, but this time most of the color is up on the screen (with vibrant hues from d.p. Eric Guichard) rather than in the characters or heavily plot-driven script.

In the left corner is Chinh (Yu Nan), a quiet, Cambodian-born Chinese who works in a restaurant owned by her uncle and aunt (Yong Luang Phinith, Xing Xing Cheng). She’s engaged to Vietnamese-Chinese Tony Tran (Bounsy Luang Phinith), the arrogant son of a local businessman (Thomas Larget). In the right corner is Raphael Ramirez (Samuel Le Bihan), the son of Spanish immigrants and a former pugilist now turned garage-owner. His younger bro, Manu (Yann Tregouet), is a Thai boxing nut.

When Chinh’s brother, Noi (Samart Payakarun), arrives illegally in the city, she is on the verge of marrying Tony but seems less than enthusiastic about the idea. Tony and Raphael are edgy old “friends” from way back — for reasons never specified in the script — and when Tony first tries to buy out Raphael’s business and Raphael then falls head-over-heels for the demure Chinh, the congee hits the fan.

Tony’s sudden passion for Chinh, played out like a musical-sans-songs in a Chinese shopping mall, is hardly convincing; but it becomes clear as the film progresses that Dridi is aiming for a realist-fairytale style rather than a down-and-dirty drama. On those terms, the movie has some merit, and manages to rein back the heavy exoticism French cinema is heir to when dealing with East Asian characters. The problem is that the script is so schematic, and the characters such cutouts, that when the final slugfest arrives (after several previous ones) the viewer couldn’t care less for the participants.

Le Bihan is the most successful at injecting some carefree charm into his role, even though Raphael is hardly sympathetic given the bullheaded way in which he ignores the consequences of his actions. If the love affair between Raphael and Chinh had been more believable, the film would have acquired more dramatic layers. As Chinh, Yu is pretty but little more, the strong reds and purples of her attire hardly matching her supposed feelings.

Most of the character color is in the supports, with Bounsy Luang Phinith good as the cocky Tony (a direct crib from Bernardo in “West Side Story”), Larget quietly authoritative as his father, and Yong Luang Phinith stealing some early scenes as the restaurant owner. Tregouet is youthfully intense as Raphael’s younger brother.

Score is an effective, but curious, mix of Mid-East and oriental flavors.

Rage

France

Production

A Gaumont release of a Gaumont, ADR Prods., France 2 Cinema production, in association with Canal Plus. (International sales: Gaumont Intl., Paris.) Produced by Alain Rozanes. Executive producers, Rozanes, Pascal Verroust. Directed, written by Karim Dridi.

Crew

Camera (color), Eric Guichard; editor, Lise Beaulieu; music, Jean-Christophe Camps, Jah Wobble; art director, Yann Mercier; costume designer, Emmanuelle Pertus; sound (Dolby Digital), Michel Brethez, Jean Gargonne, Dominique Hennequin; assistant director, Nicolas Cambois; casting, Dominique Szpindel. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama), Feb. 16, 2003. Running time: 106 MIN.

With

Samuel Le Bihan, Yu Nan, Yann Tregouet, Bounsy Luang Phinith, Samart Payakarun, Joe Prestia, Stephane Ferrara, Christian Mazzuchini, Tom Dundee, Xing Xing Cheng, Thomas Larget, Raymond Gil, Pham Huu Phuc, Yong Luang Phinith, Truong Bich Loc, Sam Berrandou, Daniel Allouche. (French, Mandarin dialogue)

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