You Li’s review published on Letterboxd:
In China, December is a peculiar protective month for Chinese films since we are embracing new arrivals which are exclusively made in China (with few exceptions due to bizarre co-distribution policies, for instance WELCOME TO THE PUNCH 2013, which is doomed to be swamped by its formidable competitors), but Ning’s latest offer NO MAN’S LAND is an even odder case, it actually was filmed in 2009 before his previous picture GUNS N’ ROSES (2012, 6/10), however it failed the censorship and had been pushed back until now, meanwhile its leading actor Zheng Xu has become the most successful director himself (his director debut LOST IN THAILAND 2012 has been the highest grossing Chinese film of all time, more than 1.2 billion Chinese yuan in all), and co-star Bo Huang presently is one of the most popular and bankable actor. Thus, if we disregard the protracted modulate process to pander to the despicable censorship, financially speaking, the timing cannot be better!
Since CRAZY STONE (2006, 8/10) Ning has accrued a solid fan base and is one of the most prominent directors of his peers, NO MAN’S LAND ventures into a territory where Chinese films scarcely enter, Western, more specifically, it is a road movie sets within a 500 mile no man’s wilderness, Xu is an uprising lawyer just won a lawsuit for a callous falcon hunter (Duobujie), when Xu drives the hunter’s car (as his reward) back to city, en route in the bare desert, a series of mishaps successively occur, which encompasses a killer (Huang), a prostitute (Yu), two lorry drivers (Ba and Wang), the owner of a tourist trap (Yang) and his retarded son (Pei Wang), while the ultimate boss of the catch and release is the hunter himself, who harbors a vicious scheme to both carry the contraband to the buyers and get rid of the snobbish lawyer.
Nevertheless Man proposes but God disposes, the Domino effect starts with one single sputum, everything starts to run amok. Ning does go to great length to make all the incidents sound logical, there is plethora of human stains among these boors, self-seekers, extortioners, poachers and murderers, the only counterbalance is the goodhearted but frail sex worker, who assumes a pivotal impetus for Xu’s heroic self-sacrifice. The vast Gobi desert provides a stupefying outlook to inspect the good and the evil stem from one’s heart, violence abounds, the rule of survival turns citizens into voracious animals.
Highlight from the cast, Duobujie is a Chinese analog of Jarvier Bardem in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007, 9/10), the action chick Nan Yu retreats back into a stereotyped damsel-in-distress niche but is tellingly watchable. Bo Huang brings about the same sum of trembles and laughters with empowering swagger, and by design our heart roots for Xu’s character, whose ill-fated story strikes a chord although his loft transition is a bit too intentional for a heroic cause, like the bombastic ending.
Clearly the cast has undergone some physical maltreatment during the filming, under the extreme weather and locale, and the final product is principally recommendable for its sleek plot twists, waggish dialogue and highly entertaining cat-and-mouse chases and skirmishes, but bearing in mind Hao Ning’s reputation as Chinese Guy Ritchie or Quentin Tarantino, NO MAN’S LAND could be more unorthodox and maybe its original version is, but woefully we would never know.