The result is all over the map, in every sense. But despite the stilted acting and artless expository dialogue, the unpredictable shifts of gear hold attention over most if not all of the lengthy running time.
The hero is Mark (Jiayin Lei), a Chinese expatriate working for a mining company in Australia, who’s married with a family but hooks up one night with his old flame Zhou (Tang Wei from Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution, in what turns out to be a thankless role).
Soon after Zhou is presumed dead in a plane crash; when she resurfaces, it emerges that she’s in possession of information that certain ruthless interests are keen to keep secret, though all this is kept vague enough to avoid implying specific social criticism.
The Aussies in the story are mostly bit players, aside from Mark’s oafish colleague Harrison, played in the requisite hammy fashion by John Batchelor (whose face you’ll surely recognise, since he shows up in Australian film and TV seemingly every time there’s call for a burly headkicker).
Harrison’s suspect nature is signaled early on by his failure to learn Chinese, and Xie evidently sees it as part of her mission to promote cross-cultural tiesbin particular, to sell Australia to a Chinese public, even if her vision of the nation is marked by a certain ambivalence.
The Twelve Apostles feature heavily in the first half hour, and when Mark’s family and friends throw him a surprise party it’s a chance for close-ups of local delicacies such as prawns and pavlova. By contrast, inner Melbourne is hilariously pictured as a city of the damned, where sex workers and gang members leer out of narrow alleys bathed in red light.
Xie has form in this department: her 2013 romantic comedy Finding Mr Right, nominally set in Seattle, reportedly boosted Chinese tourism to the city despite being shot entirely in Vancouver.
Here at least the locations really are in Melbourne — which doubles in turn for Malawi, where another significant stretch of the action takes place. Does any of this matter? I suppose it depends on where you’re coming from.