Inseparable (2011)

2014 #68
Dayyan Eng | 97 mins | download (HD) | 16:9 | China / English & Mandarin | 15 / PG-13

InseparableI’m a great advocate of tonally-mismatched films. When others are moaning that there’s too much darkness mixed in with their light fluffy film, I’m the one saying, “um, guys, have you ever lived in, y’know, real life?” Which probably explains why most of the internet reacts with anything between ambivalence and hatred towards Inseparable, whereas I really enjoyed it.

The film opens with office drone Li (Daniel Wu) trying to hang himself, when he’s interrupted by his new American neighbour (Kevin Spacey). From there the pair form a strange friendship, with Spacey encouraging his conservative new friend to open up and be a bit freer — which, eventually, leads them to don funny outfits and set out to fight crime.

Yep, this is a “real-life superhero” movie… but only a little bit. If you’re searching for a comparison, it’s more Super than Kick-Ass; but even then it’s only a small part of the movie, just an element that sells well, hence its prominence on posters. At the risk of spoilers, a closer comparison would be A Beautiful Mind. Indeed, it wouldn’t be unfair to summarise the tone and content as “A Beautiful Mind meets Super”.

Pre-superClearly this will not be to everyone’s taste. Even at just over an hour-and-a-half it’s sometimes a little draggy, and the mishmash of kooky comedy with serious themes — not only suicide, but Li’s faltering marriage and the reasons for that — will turn some off. Anyone who likes their superhero entertainments to be more po-faced won’t be best pleased, either.

All those things actively work for me, though. Inseparable may be imperfect, and has possibly only got Western attention as the first Chinese film to count an American star among its leads, but I’m glad it made that transition. It’s entertaining, perhaps thought-provoking, and if not a noteworthy entry into the “real-life superhero” subgenre (due to the minimising of that element), it is a worthwhile presence in a subgenre that can’t be named because it gives away the twist that’s a defining feature of that subgenre. It’s certainly less glum than A Beautiful Mind, anyway.

4 out of 5

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