Dir: Yu Lik-wai. Brazil-China-Japan. 2008. 118mins.

An underdeveloped yakuza-in-Brazil storyline and a hip- hop VJ sound-and-image assault do not add up to a rounded arthouse film in Yu Lik-wai’s PlasticCity. Despite some moments of visual brilliance, this third directorial outing by Jia Zhangke’s regular cinematographer betrays the same dominance of pop-existential style over dramatic substance that marred his 2003 sci-fi trudge All Tomorrow’s Parties. Even the most attentive viewer will likely be baffled by PlasticCity’s elliptical, not to say half-baked, narrative. It’s better to approach the film as a video art essay on the sensory overload that is contemporary Sao Paulo.

Healthy doses of erotic sleaze and brutal violence, plus a loud, angular techno-samba soundtrack, may recommend this to a few extreme Asian fans, but Yu takes his material way too seriously to succeed as a Takeshi Miike and lacks the assured B-movie instinct of his declared hero Seijun Suzuki. In the end, this is unlikely to emerge theatrically outside of arthouse engagements in Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Brazil, and perhaps France; elsewhere, specialist DVD looks like its most obvious channel.

In the Liberdade district of Sao Paulo, Chinese boss Yuda (Wong) controls the burgeoning trade in pirated goods with the help of his adopted Japanese son Kirin (Odagiri). Yuda’s grip over the inner-city area extends to sex dives like Devil’s Club where Kirin’s red-hot love interest Ocho (Huang Yi) works. A muddy anti-Asian alliance between the local underworld and corrupt local politicians begins to undermine Yuda’s authority, and he is forced to do time while Kirin goes into hiding in the favelas.

By the time we get to a garishly-coloured West Side Story meets Mad Max fight on top of an unfinished flyover, the patchy story, which up to now has been jumpstarted every ten minutes or so, has pretty much dissolved. The increasingly sombre soundtrack accompanies Yuda and Kirin’s loss of status which opens their eyes to more spiritual concerns - though what exactly these are is difficult to fathom.

The father-son realtionship is never explored in any depth and the Amazon-set finale wraps with an extreme gesture that by this stage has little or no dramatic leverage over the bored audience. There are some striking, original visuals and one or two intriguing scenes, but little understanding of the impact of Asian immigrants on Brazil’s underground economy.

Production companies
Xstream Pictures
Bitters End
Sundream Motion Pictures
Paris Filmes

International sales
Celluloid Dreams
(33) 1 4970 0370

Fabiano Gullane
Caio Gullane
Chow Keung
Jia Zhangke
Yuji Sadai
Tsui Siu-ming
Debora Ivanov
Gabriel Lacerda

Executive producers
Tom Cheung
Rui Pires
Sonia Hamburger

Yu Lik-wai
Fernando Bonassi

Lai Yiu-fai

Production design
Cassio Amarante

Wenders Li
Andre Finotti

Fernando Corona
Yoshihiro Hanno

Main cast
Joe Odagiri
Anthony Wong
Huang Yi
Taina Muller
Jeff Chen
Phelipe Haagensen
Antonio Petrin