Li (Daniel Wu – One Night In Mongkok, The Banquet, The Man With The Iron Fists) hasn’t had an easy time lately. Under pressure at work with a looming deadline of his report prior to his company’s latest product launch, and failing to communicate with his distanced, preoccupied wife Pang (Beibi Gong – Waiting Alone, The Founding Of A Republic) he sees no alternative but to hang himself in his living room. A timely knock on his door from enthusiastic American Chuck (Kevin Spacey – Swimming With Sharks, Iron Will, K-PAX), his previously unnoticed neighbour, inspires him to open up, share his problems and man up.
As he begins to come to terms with a previously unaddressed incident in his marriage, and dealing with the moral implications and consequences of either whistle-blowing or keeping shtum on a business cover-up, he is instead inspired to team up with Chuck and become a masked vigilante, exposing the unethical misdemeanours of greedy businessmen on camera and sending the evidence to the TV news station where Pang works.
Adding to his problems however are his increasing bouts of headaches and hallucinations; inanimate objects interact with him, dragonflies reveal themselves to only himself and no one else seems to notice Chuck, until he questions his own grip on reality.
Why has his boss not sacked him for ignoring his duties?
Is Pang really his wife, or another product of his imagination?
And why does his “guardian angel” speak to him in English?
A huge hit in its native China, Inseparable is a modern fairy tale reflecting the contemporary challenges for middle class Chinese audiences. Unfortunately it’s far less impressive for Western filmgoers who have probably seen most of the films from which it borrows heavily, most of which made a lot more sense in the first place.
Taiwanese/ Chinese/ Scottish director Dayyan Eng impressed early in his career with 2001’s excellent award-winning short film Bus 44 (available on Youtube) and his 2004 feature debut Waiting Alone, a light-hearted modern relationship drama which blended Western filmmaking aesthetics with contemporary Chinese issues (both also starring Inseparable’s Beibi Gong), but in this instance the narrative is less streamlined and coherent, taking its inspiration especially from It’s A Wonderful Life, Kick Ass and Fight Club, whilst pinching the charm directly from Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Michele Gondry.
Kevin Spacey appears to be having more fun than usual, buffooning and lampooning himself throughout as an overweight comedy Tyler Durden/Clarence hybrid, and Peter Stormare briefly pops up as an unscrupulous executive forced to confess to his misdeeds in his underpants, but for the most part the tone is confused, swinging wildly from broad farce to more introspective and fragile moments, and unfortunately relying on a convenient excuse rather than concluding more coherently.
Colourful and light-hearted, Inseparable is a fun, well-acted Amelie-esque distraction, though with a little less familiarity and a lot more sense it could have been something more unique and satisfying.