Devils on the Doorstep ★★★★½

A World War II black comedy from director-star Jiang Wen. He plays a peasant who is given two Japanese prisoners by a mysterious stranger. He's told to keep them alive for five days and interrogate them, then the stranger will return to pick them up. This sets off a moral dilemma in the community: what to do with the men, a Japanese soldier and his Chinese translator. This is only compounded when the five days pass and the stranger fails to return. The first half of the film is made up of the villagers' various schemes to kill the prisoners, all of which fail either due to Jiang's intervention (he doesn't want to do it, for moral and superstitious reasons, yet he always seems to end up being the guy tasked with it) or seeming acts of the gods.

The second half of the film follows what happens when the Chinese decide to return the prisoners to the Japanese. I don't want to give it away, but it is disturbing and darkly, darkly funny.

Neither as consciously arty as Jiang's 2007 film The Sun Also Rises nor as gleefully a genre film as his 2010 Let the Bullets Fly (where Jiang plays a bandit named "Pockmarked Zhang" - there's mention of a Chinese rebel here named "Pockmarked Li", I hope they're related), but rather a mix of the two. Jiang shoots up close in black and white, emphasizing his actors' faces, or rather parts of their faces. The closeness of the camera captures the entrapment, the claustrophobia of the characters, both physically and morally: there's no way out of the frame.