Ma Ge shi zuo cheng [A City Called Macau] (2019)

Ma Ge shi zuo cheng
Director: Shaohong Li
Writer: Man Keung Chan, Wei Lu, Geling Yan
Based on: Geling Yan‘s novel
Cast: Baihe Bai, Jue Huang, Gang Wu, Carina Lau, Tian Liang, Samuel Pang, Lu Wei, Le Geng, Xiaotong Yu, Xiaoming Su, Xianxu Hu, Eric Tsang
Part of: We Are One Film Festival
Seen on: 12.6.2020

Mei Xiaoou (Bai Baihe) is a casino broker, meaning that she manages rich clients, finding them games and loans when necessary, all to keep them gambling and happy. One of her best clients is Duan Kaiwen (Gang Wu), who shows up every once in a while in Macau and knows to keep his head. Sculptor Shi (Jue Huang), to whom Xiaoou feels drawn very strongly, on the other hand gets quickly drawn into addiction. Both men will change Xiaoou’s life over the course of a decade.

A City Called Macau has an interesting premise, but it left too many things in the realm of vague references for me. I just couldn’t follow as character motivations and simply facts were left unclear for me.

The film poster showing a close-up of Mei Xiaoou (Bai Baihe).

The film and I got off to a rough start because I already didn’t really understand how Xiaoou’s job works. That wouldn’t have been an issue in many films, but in this one, it’s pretty central to how the plot progresses. Everytime I thought I had a handle on it, things took a turn and I was confused again.

But that was pretty symptomatic of the entire film. The events span an entire decade and often jumps in time. Those jumps were often abrupt and felt more like an interruption than anything else, as the situation was changed again. At the same time, there was too much coherence to say the segments are just vignettes and it’s an episodic film.

Mei Xiaoou (Bai Baihe) standing in a golden room.

Without having read the novel the film is based on, I have the theory that they just tried to get too much of it on screen. A little more focus and culling of the plot would have done the film some good. Maybe I’ll read the novel at some point to confirm my theory.

Every once in a while, a film of interest surfaces between all those things and it’s a pity that it just isn’t here to stay. It could have been good!

Mei Xiaoou (Bai Baihe) with Duan Kaiwen (Gang Wu).

Summarizing: Maybe read the book instead.

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