It is extremely rare to find a title that captures the overall atmosphere and recurring themes of a film as accurately as Wrath of Silence does. Directed by Xin Yukun, this incredible thriller portrays how the life of poor Chinese miner Zhang Baomin (Song Yang) is revolutionised by the sudden and unexplainable disappearance of his son Lei. Baomin’s self-inflicted mutism encapsulates the very essence of his turbulent character, who once bit off his own tongue in the heat of a fight, and whose silence is constantly compensated for by a strongly eloquent, and often violent, use of body language.
The desperate search for Baomin’s son is encouraged but also feared by his sickly wife (Zhuo Tan) who, knowing how easily her husband puts himself in trouble, decides to resort to prayer as a less dangerous way of resolving the situation. Their initially personal problem rapidly escalates when Baomin gets involved in a fight alongside a group of miners who are rebelling against the representatives of Chang Wannian (Jiang Wu), an evil gangster who recently purchased the mine they work at. This event turns Baomin’s solitary and silent search into the quintessential struggle of the troubled individual against a deeply corrupt and cruel society. The strong, persistent contrast between the poor countryside lifestyle and the wealthier, more comfortable life of those who live in the city in Wrath of Silence is highlighted by the character of Xu Wenjie (Yuan Wenkang), a lawyer who was accused of perjury because of his past complicity with Chang. Baomin’s life becomes inextricably intertwined with that of the lawyer when the latter realises that his own daughter is missing as well. The portrayal of humans as intrinsically violent and animalistic in the film is highlighted by close-ups on people’s mouths as they are eating. These scenes are accompanied by disturbing chewing sounds, and are usually followed by excruciatingly brutal fights. However, there are also a few comical moments that providentially lighten up the mood, often centred on how technology betrays the characters in crucial moments.
The soundtrack of the movie helps create gripping suspense as deeply unsettling music is
alternated with even more unsettling silences. Furthermore, the soundtrack enhances the contrast between Baomin’s difficult existence and the comfortable life of the rich with a strongly ironic scene where Chang peacefully eating meat whilst listening to classical music is crosscut with Baomin savagely fighting a group of people in order to survive.
With a series of clever plot twists, Wrath of Silence manages to never be obvious until its
shocking ending, which will without doubt surprise the audience. This is an unconventional film that manages to highlight many issues present in Chinese society without being inaccessible to a non-Chinese audience, and which, with its implicit details and different levels of interpretation, stimulates the audience to actively participate in the solution of the enigma.
[Viola Ragonese – she/her]