Category Archives: Crime fiction and film from China

My 2014 Melbourne International Film Festival top ten

sorcerer-truck-on-bridgeThe Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) kicks off in few days. As usual, there’s a packed program full of cinematic goodness. If you’re wanting to check some films out but are stumped as to what to see, here’s my ten picks.

Sorcerer, 1977

The newly remastered print of Sorcerer, William Freidkin’s 1977 homage to Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1953 classic, The Wages of Fear, is up there as one of my top MIFF picks for the festival. The story is about a group of four men, each of them on the run from various sins committed in their past life, who are hired to transport a truck load of volatile dynamite across an incredibly hostile stretch of Central American jungle. Freidkin may be better known as the director of The French Connection (1971) and The Exorcist (1973) but this hard boiled slice of pure cinematic noir is, in my opinion, his best film.

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild Untold Story of Cannon Films – 2014

I really enjoyed Mark Hartley’s documentaries, Not Quite Hollywood (2008), about Australia’s Ozsploitation film scene, and Machete Maidens Unleashed (2010), his look at American film making in the Philippines in the seventies and eighties, so expectations are high for this one. Electric Boogaloo is the story of Cannon Films, the Hollywood B-studio responsible for such cinema gems as Lifeforce (1985) and the pre-Rambo, Rambo film, Missing In Action (1984).… Read more

Mid-year reading report: The Thief, St Kilda Blues, Hanging Devils, In the Morning I’ll Be Gone

Hanging-Devils-Jacket1My reading has been dominated of late by the need to get through a lot of pulp books and material I need to be across for several upcoming literary festival appearances (all of which I’ll also be discussing here in the coming weeks). Between all this, however, I have managed to get through a few books purely for pleasures and I thought it was about time I shared my thoughts on these.

First up is He Jiahong’s Hanging Devils: Hong Jun Investigates. I lamented on this site some time ago about the seeming absence of genuine contemporary crime fiction set in China, written by someone living there. Well, Hanging Devils is just that. According to the back cover blurb, the author is one of China’s foremost authorities on criminal justice, a professor of law at People’s University of Beijing and the author of several best selling crime novels including four featuring the character of Hong Ju.

Hanging Devils (also the slang term given to overhanging tree branches that can fall without warning, potential killing anyone unfortunate to be underneath them) is set in the mid-nineties.… Read more

MIFF progress report #3: A Touch of Sin and Call Girl

call-girl-posterThe third and final part of my report back from the 2013 Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) looks at the Chinese film A Touch of Sin and Call Girl, a Swedish neo noir set in the early seventies.

First up, Call Girl. Apparently based on actual events, this 2012 thriller was one of the real surprises for me at MIFF.

Sweden is in election mode and it is seven days before the nation goes to the polls. It’s a universe away from Iris and her best friend Sonja, two young juvenile delinquents sent to live in a home for troubled youths.

The home has virtually zero supervision and the young people seem free to come and go at all hours of the day and night. Remember this is Sweden in the early seventies, an ultra permissive, self proclaimed social democratic paradise where the authorities are thinking about decriminalizing certain types of incest and the cops crack jokes about capitalism.

Tthrough a series of unfortunate interactions the two girls find themselves drawn into the orbit of a procurer for the sex trade called Dagmar and her creepy sidekick and lover, Roy.

Dagmar runs a call girl operation. Not just any call girl racket. Her clients include senior civil servants, politicians (including the Minister of Justice) and police.… Read more

Crime time at the 2013 Melbourne International Film Festival

grisgrisThe Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) approaches and, and as was the case in 2012, the good people at MIFF HQ have been good enough to give me media accreditation to cover some of the crime films on the program.

When I started to write this piece on my crime cinema picks for MIFF 2013, I realised nearly all my choices were films set outside of the Anglo world. This is in line with my usual practice of viewing films that I think are unlikely to get a mainstream release here. But it also reflects my growing interest in how developing or countries from the global South view and define crime cinema and crime and noir narratives.


One of my favourites from MIFF 2011 was the Congalese film Viva Rivathe story of a small-time gangster who returns from neighbouring Angola with a truckload of stolen petrol he hopes to sell Kinshasa at top dollar. I’m hoping that Grigis, a 2011 France/Chad coproduction is as good.

Directed by French-Chadian Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, it focuses on a young physically handicapped Chadian man who earns a living as a photographer and dancer in nightclubs, but yearns to make enough money to pay Mimi, one of the hostesses in the bar he works in, to marry him.… Read more

Writing noir fiction in Asia

Late last week in Phnom Penh a book was launched that I’m very proud to have a story in.

It’s called Phnom Penh Noir, an anthology of 14 noir stories set in Cambodia. Amongst the authors are Roland Joffe, the director whose credits include the 1984 film The Killing Fields, John Burdett, author of the Sonchai Jitpleecheep series and Christopher G Moore, who also edited the book. Interestingly, there’s also stories by Khmer and Thai authors.

If you’re looking for an interesting take on noir fiction, I’d urge you to check this book out.

I’ve noticed a bit of interest lately around the idea of setting noir crime fiction in Asia.

My debut novel Ghost Money is set in Cambodia the mid-nineties, the point at which the long-running Khmer Rouge insurgency started to fragment and the country was torn by political instability. It’s been out for several months now and nearly everyone who has reviewed it has labelled it noir fiction. Which is very fine with me.  As I noted in my last post, some have even dubbed it Asian noir, which sounds even cooler. 

Ghost Money is the story of a disillusioned Vietnamese Australian ex-cop called Max Quinlan, who is hired to find an Australian businessman, Charles Avery, missing in the chaos.… Read more