Chongqing Hot Pot is crazy, but not good crazy

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      Starring Chen Kun. In Mandarin, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable.

      This is the kind of movie in which a character announces, after being bound with rope by a gang of violent thugs: “I just remembered I have a knife in my pocket!” Even allowing for iffy translation, that’s just one Scooby Doo–calibre moment too far in a movie that's already suffering multiple plot seizures.

      After a preamble involving masked bankrobbers, our Chongqing potbolier settles into the story of three old schoolfriends (and former boy-band wannabes, naturally), now business partners who want to offload a dud restaurant built into one of the titluar city’s warren of underground caves. Embarking on some illegal renos, the trio accidentally blasts a hole through the floor of the bank next door; rather conveniently for Liu Bo (Chen Kun), who’s racked up a huge gambling debt with the psychopathic Brother Seven.

      Writer-director Yang Qing (One Night in Supermarket) subsequently puts his gang of four—now including another old schoolfriend (Bai Baihe), who just happens to work at the bank and has a long unanswered crush on Liu Bo—through an increasingly contorted set of situations, none of them remotely plausible enough to digest. The stupidest of these concerns an old love letter, which is really just a way to whiplash the viewer between tooth-rotting sentimentality and a shockingly violent and drawn-out climax.

      It’s all quite mad, and not in a particularly inspired way, but Hot Pot does at least look pretty great, with Chongqing appearing like a pristine Mega-City One from Judge Dredd. Credit the filmmakers with maximizing their location, location, location.

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