As a film lover I have never really been much of a James Bond fan. As a kid I can remember sitting down with my father and watching Bond films with him. Dad was a Bond connoisseur and I remember sitting there wishing I could get as much enjoyment out of them as he seemed to. But I never did, instead all I could ever see was a cheesy character in a world that never seemed real.
As a result when I was growing into a film lover myself I rarely gave much acknowledgment to spy films in general. That as it turned out was a pretty stupid thing to do because as I have found out over the years there are some brilliant spy films out there that don’t feature Bond, what have I also learnt though is that I prefer my spy films to be more on the realistic side of things.
When it comes to realism you can’t go past the brand new Chinese spy thriller Cliff Walkers. Set in Northern China during the 1930s it tells the story of four spies sent behind the Japanese enemy lines to conduct a mission that will allow the world to see the Chinese people’s suffering.
The group led by Zhang Zianchen (Zhang Yi – The Sacrifice) soon finds themselves in a position where they no longer who they can trust. This tightens the bond between Wang Yu (Qin Hailu – Return Ticket), Chu Liang (Zhu Yawen – Red Sorghum) and Xiao Lan (Liu Haocun – One Second) but also makes every move they make dangerous, especially when they find themselves separated and having to try think what they ruthless enemy will do next.
Director Yimou Zhang (House Of Flying Daggers) does an amazing job bringing a naturalistic style to this film. The scenes shot in deep snow look so real as an audience member you find yourself shivering and even the car chases involving historical cars look sensational on the big screen – and while Hollywood directors often go easy on historical cars Zhang does not.
What lifts this film to a whole new level though is the suspensefulness that creeps through this film from start to finish. From the moment the four agents land in Northern China their lives are in danger and it shows on the screen. Watching the film you find yourself trying to guess whether the next person they meet is bad or good, and to the credit of the screenplay the film never gives that away until it absolutely needs to. The result is some wonderful ‘golden-age-of-cinema’ moments when characters suddenly reveal a gun and their true colours.
I was also amazed by some of the acting performances in the film. Yu Hewei (Three Kingdoms) is sensational as the ambiguous Zhou Yi and part of the fun of this film is trying to work out whether he is good or bad. There is also a stand-out performance by Liu Haocan who brilliantly plays the innocent but deadly Xiao Lan – so interesting is her character that you almost wish the film’s producers would do some spin-offs centring around her.
I feel that I do have to warn people that there are some hard to watch scenes in Cliff Walkers. Some of the torture sequences may be hard for some audience members to watch, but if you are an avid fan of thrillers then this is one film that you certainly shouldn’t miss.