Yu Lik-wai’s dazzling Plastic City uses the gangster genre as a starting off point for a wild, visually intoxicating ride. Set in Brazil, the movie focuses on a group of bootleg merchandise peddlers who find themselves under siege on several fronts due to the changing political world that surrounds them. Thanks to globalization, the corrupt tricks they’ve previously used are no longer enough to keep a firm hold on their operations. This setup leads into a series of events that undercuts the typical trajectories of this genre, resulting in a style that grows increasingly fragmented as their places in the underworld become less certain.
Director Yu Lik-wai has made two decent previous features, but he’s been rightfully best known until now as Jia Zhang-ke’s frequent cinematographer. That training as a cameraman really is on display here, in a movie that fully captures the garish culture clash that is Brazil. Each scene jettisons the stylistic approach of the last, resulting in an experience that’s able to keep viewers off guard throughout. As the rise to power narrative that dominates the first half of the film is waylaid, the movie only grows more discursive, veering off into mysticism and outright hyperbole. The net effect of Plastic City combines disorientation with the affirmation that a bold new filmmaking talent has made himself known.