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‘Only The River Flows’ Review: A Witty, Convoluted China-Noir That is Less Whodunnit Than Whodidntit

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Jessica Kiang Imagine the gleaming surfaces of Park Chan-wook’s terrific “Decision to Leave” stripped of romance, all scuzzed-up and grimy.

Imagine drilling down through Diao Yinan’s Berlin-winning “Black Coal, Thin Ice” and finding unexpected seams of absurdist dark comedy.

You are now somewhere in the seamy offbeat world of “Only the River Flows,” director Wei Shujun’s inventive riff on Asian-noir that gives the expanding subgenre something its Chinese contributions often lack: a pitch-black sense of humor.

Wei has been laying claim to the title of laid-back joker in China’s new-gen pack since debuting with affable slacker comedy “Striding into the Wind” in 2020 (a selection in 2020’s canceled Cannes festival) and following it up with autoreflexive filmmaking satire “Ripples of Life.” Now he brings his wry sensibilities to bear on this murdery mindbender, which he adapts, with a healthy disdain for boring stuff like “linear plotting” and “resolution,” alongside Kang Chunlei, from a short story by postmodernist author Yu Hua.

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