Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Brink looks good but can't rekindle my passion for Hong Kong movies (film review)

The first Hong Kong movie I've viewed in months

The Brink (Hong Kong-Mainland China, 2017)
- Jonathan Li, director
- Starring: Max Zhang Jin, Shawn Yue, Wu Yue, Gordon Lam Ka Tung, Janice Man

Not so long ago, I'd get excited by the thought of a new Hong Kong movie opening in cinemas.  Heck, there was even a time when I'd regularly watch more Hong Kong films -- new as well as old -- than non-Hong Kong ones; and actually one year -- early on in my rediscovery of Hong Kong cinema -- that my cinematic consumption was restricted to the output of what was then the third largest film industry in the world!

In recent months though, my movie diet has been more likely to involve old Japanese movies (including Akira Kurosawa's amazing The Hidden Fortress and Setsuko Hara star vehicle The Ball at the Anjo House) and contemporary Hollywood offerings (among them, the very watchable The Big Sick).  In all honesty, the negative experience of viewing Paradox back in August actually put me off wanting to watch a new Hong Kong movie for a while.  And, in the end, I only got to deciding to check out The Brink because two friends had told me they thought it was markedly better than John Woo's latest film, Manhunt, which opened on the same day as this debut directorial offering from Jonathan Li.

Starring wushu athlete turned actor Max Zhang Jin (who previously caught the eye in supporting roles in the likes of Ip Man 3 and SPL II) as Sai Gau, a cop who employs highly unorthodox -- and violent -- ways to generally get his man, The Brink is a crime actioner that's heavy on the action and visual style but lightweight and suspect on the storytelling front.  Like its moody blue-tinted poster suggests, the focus is on atmospheric and aesthetic flourishes more so than actual plot and character development; with Sai Gau's rebellious nature visually spelt out via his having bleach-blonde hair that his superior officer (Gordon Lam Ka Tung) characterizes as more appropriate for a bad boy gangster than someone charged with upholding the law.   

Rivalling the movie's nominal hero for visual distinctiveness is Jiang Gui Cheng, a wild-haired fisherman turned gold smuggler who's essayed with large amounts of sullenness along with menace by Shawn Yue.  After his boss-mentor (Tai Bo) decides in favor of his son (Derek Tsang) taking over as head of the business rather than his much more capable number two, Jiang turns on the two and attracts the attention of Sai Gau, who gets to belatedly realizing that he may have bitten off more than he can chew by going after this villain with a distinctly ruthless streak with just the help of his much put-upon partner, A-de (Wu Yue).      

The increasingly rare Hong Kong-Mainland Chinese co-production that doesn't have a single scene which takes place in Mainland China, The Brink is to be applauded too for eschewing the usual settings in such as Central and Kwun Tong (the latter of which has become home to many film company offices in recent years) in favor of other, visually interesting locales.  Something else that's actually pretty innovative is its having a number of scenes that take place by, on and in the water -- which, when you come to think of it, makes real sense since Hong Kong does have miles and miles of coastline, hundreds of islands and jurisdiction over a not insubstantial amount of marine area.

In their enthusiasm to feature underwater action in the film, however, the makers of The Brink actually made what could have been pretty cool sequences feel over long and consequently seem less special.  Similarly, in over-emphasizing Sai Gau's dogged nature and Jiang's ruthlessness, these two potentially cool leading characters became too unlikeable for the viewer(s) to care for.   

Considering how much screentime Max Zhang and Shawn Yue get to shine in this movie, I honestly expected more and better from two actors who have shown in other works that they can be charismatic as well as generate far more empathy for their characters than was the case in The Brink.  Fans of Janice Man and Yasuaki Kurata will be even more disappointed, since their parts are pretty superfluous as well as distinctly one-dimensional, and serve very little purpose beyond adding unneccesary complications to the plot rather than actual substantial layers to the story.
My rating for this film: 6.0   

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