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Originally published Friday, March 28, 2008 at 12:00 AM


Movie review

In "Boarding Gate," East meets West, and it isn't pretty

A dozen years ago, writer-director Olivier Assayas fused Hong Kong and Parisian cinema with the smart and funny "Irma Vep," starring Maggie...

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2 stars

"Boarding Gate," with Asia Argento, Michael Madsen, Carl Ng, Kim Gordon. Written and directed by Olivier Assayas. 106 minutes. Rated R for violence, sexual content, language and some drug material. In English, French and Cantonese, with English subtitles. Northwest Film Forum.

A dozen years ago, writer-director Olivier Assayas fused Hong Kong and Parisian cinema with the smart and funny "Irma Vep," starring Maggie Cheung as an Asian actress hired to do a remake of a classic French film fantasy. Assayas' latest picture, "Boarding Gate," also mixes Eastern and Western culture, but the charm has largely evaporated.

"Gate," Part 1, is a depressing vision of a soul-deadened, industrial Paris, with Michael Madsen playing a cash-poor wheeler-dealer named Miles. Asia Argento is Sandra, the unpredictable drug-runner who fascinates and threatens him.

Part 2 takes a more touristy approach to Hong Kong, where Sandra flees, losing her passport and credit cards and piling up corpses wherever she takes her gun. She faces shockingly few consequences for the mayhem she creates, though she certainly establishes her credentials as a femme fatale.

Argento, daughter of horror-film director Dario Argento, is now internationally known for her supporting roles in "Last Days," "Land of the Dead" and "Marie Antoinette." "Boarding Gate" is designed as a commercial B-movie vehicle for her sullen presence, but Assayas' heart doesn't seem to be in it.

Both the Parisian and Hong Kong episodes depend on whether the audience can believe Sandra when she commits herself to anyone. While she and Miles may always have Paris (sort of), you do wonder if their love/hate relationship could exist outside the master/slave boundaries they establish at the outset.

He turns violent and insists that she's no better than "a $2 hooker off the streets." He's more taken with her alternate identity: Vortex, a control freak who appears on her own science-fiction Web site. She ties him up, he screams at her, yet their sadomasochistic fantasies seem like a form of showing off.

Sandra is a sometime prostitute who sleeps with her infatuated boss, Lester (Carl Ng). He helps her escape to Hong Kong after she makes her first kill. The chase sequences, which are stylishly handled and make excellent use of the Asian locations (Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon turns up in a standard villain role), lead to a twist ending that is unlikely to come as a great surprise.

Like just about everything in "Boarding Gate," the finale suggests that its creators have been watching too many other movies with similar premises and payoffs. They get the surface details, but context and conviction are missing.

John Hartl:

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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