Yun Hang finds himself in debt with the local Triad organisation, and has a hard time paying back the money that he owes. Instead of killing him and thus never getting the money back, the Triad leader decides to instead use him as a hitman, and assigns an assassination mission that he has to carry out. The young man finds his target, but struggles to finish his given task.
'Echoing Clouds' might sound a little bit familiar when it comes to the plot. While it certainly does not reinvent the wheel, the film directed by Ziwei Yao aptly explores an emotional inner struggle, and does so remarkably well. Expecting a typical action flick with a Triad hitman twist, we were pleasantly surprised by the depth of some of the ideas, and the philosophical undertones that accompany them. It is a smartly elaborated and nuanced story which, despite sometimes being a little static and confusing – the plot loses its footing with regard to coherence at times – avoids falling in the numerous pitfalls of the genre and steers clear of the most obvious stereotypes.
Director Ziwei Yao puts forward a visual style that fits like a glove: the numerous static frames, combined with the ubiquitous black and white filter, work towards the desired effects and ensure a darker, more introspective atmosphere. This increases the potential for identification with Yun Hang’s character, as many scenes involving him slowly digging a hole alongside a riverbank, or simply staring in the distance from an elevated point, offer moments of quiet contemplation that really complement the film’s nature. The use of music and sound effects is equally well-dosed: not excessive or intrusive, the audio effects come at exactly the right times and work well in improving the overall atmosphere and experience of the film.
'Echoing Clouds' is not a perfect film – some of the vestimentary choices of the characters are uninspired, the pacing is a bit uneven at times, and a certain number of details add up to a level of confusion about the plot rather than feeling like substantial elements that help the narrative or the process of establishing the characters. Some of the frames utilised – such as a 360-degree rotation, feel a bit random within the contexts in which they are applied. Even so, the philosophical nuances combine with a pleasant cinematography and a generally good direction, and offer a product that is much more valuable than the countless action flicks involving gangs and individuals who owe money to them.