Starring: Shen Teng, Huang Jingyu, Yin Zheng
Director: Han Han
Running Time: 98 mins
Pegasus is a Chinese film about a formerly legendary rally driver who, five years after having his license rescinded and been entirely outside the sport, decides to launch his comeback to glory.
Yet another big hitter at the Chinese box office recently, Pegasus is actually quite a lot more restrained than many other blockbusters that come out of the country, although it perhaps goes a little too far, failing to capture any real blockbuster excitement or genuinely funny humour throughout, and ending up as a rather underwhelming mess between comedy and drama.
But first things first, the one thing that I really appreciated about Pegasus was the fact that it isn’t a showy, arrogant movie in the way that so many Chinese blockbusters – especially comedies – are nowadays. Of course, the reasons for that phenomenon are far-reaching, but it’s a trait of the Chinese film industry that really doesn’t sit well with me. Pegasus, on the other hand, is happy to sit back a little with the material extravagance, and tells a much more down-to-earth, restrained story right from the start.
In part reminiscent of the wonderfully reserved and heartfelt characters in Dying To Survive, Pegasus crafts a hugely endearing lead in Shen Teng’s character almost immediately, and through his genuine humility and kind-hearted personality, combined with an exciting determination and humorous side, the film is an engaing and thoroughly likable watch right from the start, something I hope to see a lot more of from China in the coming years.
Another plus in that department comes in the form of the film’s special effects. Once again, Chinese blockbusters nowadays are all covered in vulgar, grey CGI and visual effects (although that’s not something Hollywood can claim to have cast aside either), however Pegasus takes a refreshing and immensely satisfying turn towards more practical effects, bringing the action and excitement of the story a whole lot closer to you, rather than just telling it through lifeless CGI.
The film’s final act is where the benefits of that approach really start to show, and while there is of course some CGI when necessary, the use of practical effects, real rally cars and genuine racing action makes a world of difference, and it helps Pegasus to a thoroughly entertaining conclusion in the form of that action-packed final act.
And this is where my big issue with Pegasus comes in. While it’s wonderful to see it take a slightly more restrained approach to blockbuster filmmaking, the film struggles to keep you entirely engaged over its whole runtime, and with the exception of that excellent final act, its more reserved style actually does it some damage at times.
A good comparison for Pegasus in recent Chinese cinema is the excellent boxing movie, Never Say Die, which blends fantasy, comedy and drama to make both a hilarious and surprisingly moving watch. Pegasus, on the other hand, is never really sure what sort of a film it wants to be, and instead of taking the bold approach of Never Say Die by blending drama and comedy together, the film is a rather messy concoction of ludicrous scenes of slapstick jammed right alongside deeper, more pensive drama.
As a result, I was left really rather frustrated over the course of the first two acts, never really getting into the flow of the film as its atmosphere switches back and forth between something serious and something entirely comical. That doesn’t mean some of the scenes on both sides of the comedy/drama divide aren’t good, but as an entire package, the movie feels a bit of a mess, and struggles to really captivate you in the way that Never Say Die managed so well.
Overall, then, there was quite a lot that I liked and appreciated about Pegasus, principally its more reserved and restrained style in comparison to most Chinese blockbusters, making for an entirely more likable and enjoyable watch. However, its failures to blend comedy and drama effectively make it a frustrating and even underwhelming watch at times, only really saved by an excellent final act where we see racing take centre stage, portrayed beautifully through a fantastic use of practical effects, and that’s why I’m giving this a 7.2.