The latest evidence that Hong Kong cinema has entered a self-conscious, mannerist phase is this Chow Yun-fat vehicle–an updated variation on the romantic nihilist image he so successfully projected in John Woo’s operatic action films. Here Chow plays a morose desperado whose nickname Killer hints at a dubious past. Holed up in a desolate frontier town, Killer runs a hotel that serves as a refuge for ragamuffin ex-cons. One day a mysterious woman (Cecilia Yip, in an over-the-top performance) shows up claiming to be Killer’s long-lost wife, setting off a chain of events that ends in a blazing, cathartic finale. Director Wa Fa-fai, under Woo’s supervision, has appropriated from Kurosawa, Woo, the spaghetti western, and other sources to forge a glossy, anachronistic yet existential look that suggests Leone’s west–and MTV (though most of Peace Hotel was shot on the wide plains of China). The narrative tone, however, is strictly 90s Hong Kong–zigzagging from comical to serious, naive to all-knowing. The saturated visual style owes much to the trendsetting Ashes of Time, Wong Kar-wai’s peculiar swordsman western. Throughout this delirious, baroque, almost campy fantasia, Chow, whose career is about to shift to Hollywood, proves himself a resourceful actor–his stoic, dignified presence resembles that of our movie icons. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday and Sunday, April 13 and 14, 6:00, 443-3737. –Ted Shen

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.