A police informant in a town on the Sino-Russian border finds his double life catching up with him, in director Cai Shangjun’s combination of crime movie and character study.
Shot mostly along the frigid Sino-Russian frontier in the depths of winter, The Conformist is very much a story of borders, both external and internal. Directed by Cai Shangjun and written by Gu Xiaobai — who previously collaborated on TIFF '11's superb People Mountain People Sea — this is a crime movie with a spiritual dimension, a character study anchored in existential dilemma. Our hero moves between two worlds — but there are lines he cannot bring himself to cross.
Wang Haibo (Huang Bo) blends in. His face never registers shock or emotion. He speaks when necessary. He can drink with others and even go out dancing, but no one knows him. A former lumber mill worker, Haibo now inhabits a world of smugglers, gamblers, robbers, and killers. But he is also a police informant, and the compromises this requires of him are piling up.
Huang won the Golden Goblet for Best Actor at the Shanghai International Film Festival for his magnificent work in The Conformist. He is a model of restraint, yet over the course of the film we gradually realize that, under Cai's attentive gaze, he is in fact revealing a great deal, little by little. Circulating through various evocative locations where two very different cultures intermingle, Haibo is a fascinating figure — and Huang delivers what may be the performance of the year.