Devils on the Doorstep

dir. Jiang Wen

TIFF Cinematheque - Retrospective

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A randy peasant finds himself in a bizarre dilemma during the Sino-Japanese War, in the dazzling second feature by superstar actor-director Jiang Wen.


Jiang Wen first burst on to the scene playing Gong Li's swaggering love interest in Zhang Yimou's Red Sorghum, and after achieving great fame in subsequent films turned his hand to directing. Jiang's second directorial effort, Devils on the Doorstep is one of the most praised and controversial films in Chinese cinema history. Set during the Sino-Japanese War, the film concerns a randy peasant in a small village (played by Jiang himself) who suddenly finds himself saddled with an unexpected pair of houseguests: a captured Japanese soldier and his Chinese translator. The villagers incompetently interrogate, hide, and ultimately befriend the pair, until a deal is struck and the prisoner is returned to his troop — but the local Japanese commander, and the Nationalist resistance army, have other plans in store. Recently restored to the original full-length version which won it the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Devils is a tour de force in virtually every respect, from its luminous black-and-white cinematography to its startling tonal shifts, shuttling from satire and slapstick to full-on melodrama and ferocious, bloody tragedy. "Jiang Wen gives a powder-keg performance, all double takes and lunging motions, and his direction is no less robust. With a camera that charges into the thick of the frequently erupting commotions, the movie exists in a state of constant disorientation, the better to orchestrate its sardonic reversals" (Dennis Lim, The Village Voice).