This week, I thought I’d give the Leading Man a chance to redeem himself. Normally, I trust Clive’s instincts when it comes to films, and it’s rare that our likes don’t intersect. So it was something of a surprise for me to find how much I hated The Divide–a film that he’d raved about for years.
So, was it just an aberration? Have our tastes drifted away from each other? There’s one way to find out. This week, I’m unwrapping another of Clive’s recommendations…
THE ARRIVAL OF WANG (2011)
dir/scr: The Manetti Brothers
Ennio Fantastichini, Francesca Cuttica, Li Yong
SPOILER ALERT IN OPERATION FROM THIS POINT ON
The Arrival Of Wang is a taut, tight SF thriller that reads like a lost episode of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits. Gaia, a translator specialising in subtitle work for cheap Chinese movies is picked up by security forces and hustled to a secret location, where she is tasked with a tricky job: sitting in on the questioning of a subject who only speaks Mandarin. As the reasons for the secrecy become clear, she is torn between her innate humanity and the possibility that everything that she has been told is a lie…
It’s difficult to talk about The Arrival Of Wang without discussing its central conceit. I hesitate to call it a twist, as Wang’s face, the big secret of the first third of the film, is plastered over the cover of the DVD. So let’s get it out of the way. Wang is an alien, who has learnt the most-spoken language on the planet. Somehow, he’s ended up in Rome, unable to communicate, trapped in a place where he’s very definitely on his own. Captured and interrogated, he insists that he comes in peace.
His CGI form is certainly designed to tweak our sympathies. Pot-bellied and doe-eyed, trussed up like a turkey in tinfoil, he doesn’t look like any kind of threat. Gaia, played with simple grace by Francesca Cuttica, certainly is on Wang’s side. As interrogator Curti, played by the fantastically-named Ennio Fantastichini, loses patience with Wang and brings in the electrical probes, we side with him too. It’s as if the Italians are torturing ET.
The Arrival Of Wang is a bottle show, shot in a basement complex with perhaps one exterior shot. A tiny cast and crew do a decent job on what’s clearly a limited budget. Fantastichini and Cuttica are both excellent, squeezing every drop of tension out of the script. In the con column, I found the way Gaia sounds like she’s rolling marbles round her mouth when speaking Chinese a little distracting. The CG used for Wang isn’t the greatest, especially when he finally gets free of his chair and has to waddle around, and to be honest I found the character design a little too cartoonish.
But these are minor concerns for a movie that has a decent hit of good old fashioned Atom-age paranoia at its heart. The modern concern with the use (and usefulness) of torture as a way to gather information is played with nicely, as is Gaia’s concern with Wang’s human rights–a notion that Curti pulls apart in front of her. As for Wang’s true mission? Well, that’s one secret I’ll have to keep.
Let us consider the facts, then:
Is The Arrival Of Wang worth unwrapping?
A big fat yes for this one. A tightly played piece of proper SF with a pair of compelling central performances and a lot to say about the way we defend ourselves against terrorism, and how successful those defences can be. The ending, which Clive is on record as hating, is to my mind both inevitable and pleasingly logical, and locks into the black-hearted twist endings that the 90’s version of The Outer Limits (a show that The Arrival Of Wang very closely resembles in terms of look and mood) delighted in. There’s no flab, and it’s never dull.
Clive: you’re off the hook. Good choice.
To win my copy of The Arrival of Wang, just answer this question:
Which famously keen fictional interrogator said:
“You are going to tell me what I want to know, it’s just a matter of how much you want it to hurt”?
Answers in the comments, first right answer gets the disc. Good luck!