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the old town girls

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[NYAFF ’21] ‘The Old Town Girls’ review: Neo-noir for the working class

Most noirs tend to tell big stories.

The Old Town Girls is a neo-noir story from China that focuses heavily on family. Shui Qing is a teenager who was abandoned by her birth mother. When Qu Ting walks back into her life, Shui Qing attempts to forge a new bond. At first, things seemed to be working out.  Before long, Shui Qing finds herself drawn into a world of debt and gangsters. 

Most noir/gangster films tend to tell big stories. They are sent in metropolitan areas and have almost glamorous backdrops. Even the grittier tales of Philip Marlowe have a distinct look and feel. The Old Town Girls is set in a nondescript industrial town. This gives a more personal feel than is usually found in the genre. It also has the added effect of making a gangster story relatable.

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Things get off to a frantic start. Qu Ting is on her way to the police in order to report a kidnapping. It is soon revealed that things are not quite what they seem. These moments drag audiences in, but are the exception to the rule. The Old Town Girls is more patient than the opening lets on. A strong argument can even be made that the crime thriller portion of the story is forced in.

[NYAFF '21] 'The Old Town Girls' review: Neo-noir for the working class

The Old Town Girls seeks to be more grounded than other movies involving dangerous gangsters. This means that the film does have a habit of falling into character tropes. For example, Qu Ting is the epitome of a carefree mother reentering her daughter’s life. She drinks and parties hard and has no issues bringing Shui Qing into her world. This can be said of many in the movie. 

This does not prevent them from being well-developed, however. The main characters have interesting backstories. The Old Town Girls is unafraid to show the ugly side of everyone. And some of the decisions made are not those the audience will be able to forgive easily. It is in the relationships between the characters that The Old Town Girls truly shines. Every interaction is filled with emotion and even expressions are windows into the personalities of the characters. Every conversation and encounter is filled with meaning and feeling. Ultimately, it is these moments that will draw audiences into the movie.

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