4 out of 5
Takashi Miike is known for his gangster films such as Dead or Alive and Ichi The Killer. If he’s not making yakuza-related films, he makes weird and absurd shorts such as The Box. Even his mainstream films, Crows Zero and Crows Zero 2, that’re adaptations from popular manga are filled with violence and testosterone. But The Bird People of China is truly different from other films he has made and it has a very strong mellow undertone.
Wada works for a Japanese company that trades gemstones. He is sent to a remote village in Yunnan, China where a rare type of jade is found. The company wants to be the first to exploit this special jade. Turns out Wada is not the only person sent to the village. The company he works for is in debt with a yakuza organisation, the company’s CEO promises the yakuza boss that the payment money will be taken from the jade’s sell. To ensure the safety of the jade, the yakuza send Ujie to travel with Wada.
The two start off very roughly. During the bumpy trip the conditions that their car falls apart piece by piece, their absurd Chinese guide, and a terrapines-pulled raft really do not make things any better. One night the three of them get high on mushroom, the guide bumps his head on a rock and loses his memory, making their destination even more unclear. Only by sheer force of luck that they manage to reach the village. They find out that besides holding the precious jade, the villagers also know the secret of flying. Things get more interesting with the appearance of a blue-eyed girl who claims that her grandfather invented the secret of flying and at one point the village sky was filled with Icaruses. Soon Wada and Ujie find themselves adjusting to the village’s rhythm, each of them is in love in a different way.
The Bird People of China is possibly best to be categorised as an adventure film. It is funny, weird, and beautiful. It proves that even without violence Takeshi Miike films still pack punches and kicks.