The Arrival of Wang (2011)

First published by Little White Lies

In a way, The Arrival of Wang practically defines the purpose of FrightFest’s new third ‘ReDiscovery’ screen. It was already shown to reported acclaim at FrightFest’s Glasgow event earlier this year, and now affords viewers an opportunity to see an earlier film by the Manetti brothers alongside their latest, Paura 3D, in the Main Programme – and that’s literally ‘alongside’, since both films are screening in near simultaneous Saturday slots.

Its unfortunate title might be met, like Free Willy, with the odd titter from British viewers, but Wang (Li Yong) is in fact the (assumed) name of a Chinese-speaking migrant whose unannounced arrival in Rome has caused a stir amongst the Italian authorities. So they turn to civilian translator Gaia Aloisi (Francesca Cuttica) to interpret Wang’s measured words as he undergoes a basement interrogation at the hands of Stefano Curti (Ennio Fantastichini). Like Aloisi, we are initially kept in the dark as to Wang’s identity, and for even longer about his motives, but find our sympathies quickly drawn to this illegal alien as he is subjected to ever more brutal ‘hospitality’.

The Arrival of Wang comes with a high concept revolving around two crucial questions: who is Wang? and what is the purpose of his covert visit to Rome? The problem, however, is that these questions are asked far too many times within the film itself, and in more than one language too, so that their answers are deferred less by genuine narrative suspense than by a bloated, over-repetitive script. Even the scenes where characters are seen outside the interrogation room – Curti smoking in a toilet cubicle, Aloisi playing cat-and-mouse in the building’s endless corridors, flashbacks to Amunike (Juliet Esey Joseph) discovering Wang (twice!) hidden in her apartment – feel like unnecessary padding designed less to advance the plot than to stretch it to feature length. The Arrival of Wang is a distended 80-minute monstrosity concealing somewhere within itself a great short film.

The Manettis’ film is unlikely to be remembered for the cheapness of its look or the lo-fi quality of its special effects, but then it belongs to a genre (to say which genre would itself be a spoiler) where images are arguably less important than ideas. Sure enough, the most striking aspect of The Arrival of Wang is its ideology, playing upon the West’s current anxieties about foreign terrorism and the East’s rising economic hegemony. All these issues may be filtered through the easily assimilated perspective of Aloisi’s liberalism, but the blindfold that she is forced to put on near the film’s beginning serves to encode a broader myopia – and so, for all its twistiness, the film’s greatest shock is the unfashionably reactionary nature of its ending.

© Anton Bitel