Review: The Menu (2016)

The Menu

导火新闻线

Hong Kong/China, 2016, colour, 2.35:1, 89 mins.

Director: Fang Junhua 方俊华 [Ben Fong].

Rating: 4/10.

Spin-off of the Hong Kong TVD set in the media world lacks enough compelling drama to justify a movie.

STORY

Hong Kong, 13 Jan 2015. It’s two years since Mai Xiaoxin (Yang Qi) arrived in Hong Kong and started as a photojournalist at Smart Post 囧报; her colleague Wang Zijian (Jiang Wenjie) is dead and chief editor Wang Hailan (Liang Xiaobing) has moved on. Her colleague Fang Ning (Zhou Jiayi) is now acting chief editor and is under pressure from her group boss (Zhang Jiansheng) to keep the clicks up now an aggressive new publication, Flash Post 闪报, has started up. In the street Mai Xiaoxin and her boyfriend/reporter colleague Le Jiahui (Wang Zongyao) happen to see a minibus crash when the driver (Gong Ci’en) has a heart attack following a phone call. Le Jiahui finds the dead woman’s mobile and traces the call to her husband, Tan Ruizhi (Wu Mengda), a lighting electrician at TV station C99. News then arrives that there has been an on-air electrical explosion at C99 during an interview with Gao Jianren (Li Mingming), who raped and killed a 17-year-old seven years ago but got off after bribing a witness and, under the legal principle of “double jeopardy”, couldn’t be charged again for the same crime. The dead girl’s father is Tan Ruizhi who, after years of useless protests (including a hunger strike) to get the double-jeopardy rule changed and see justice for his daughter, arranged the explosion and is now holding Gao Jianren and the C99 staff hostage. He demands a meeting with Hong Kong’s Chief Executive before midnight, or he’ll blow himself and everyone else to smithereens. Beating the competition, Le Jiahui gains access to the building and interviews Tan Ruizhi by radio; but he’s dragged away by the police. In the street outside, Le Jiahui gets into a violent argument with Flash Post reporter Yang Haofeng (Yang Shangbin), prompting a demand by Flash Post‘s chief editor (Yu Silu) for an apology from Fang Ning. Meanwhile, Le Jiahui becomes personally involved in Tan Ruizhi’s case, wanting to help him instead of just reporting on events. The police allow Le Jiahui access to the TV station again and he negotiates the release of four female hostages. But Tan Ruizhi loses his patience when Flash Post publishes lurid pictures of his dead wife; he kills some hostages with explosives, and again demands the Chief Executive comes to meet him. However, the latter, whom Le Jiahui and Mai Xiaoxin have discovered has connections with Gao Jianren’s father (Dazui Migao), stands his ground. With only a few hours left to the midnight deadline, Fang Ning and the Smart Post staff decide to use social media to mobilise public opinion on to the streets.

REVIEW

Dramatic sparks fail to fly in media drama The Menu 导火新闻线, a film spin-off of the 2015 Hong Kong TV drama series of the same name (see poster, left) with many of the same cast and the same director, Fang Junhua 方俊华 [Ben Fong], and head writer, Pan Manhong 潘漫红. The formula that worked across 24 episodes, enlivened with some pacey sequences, doesn’t manage to build any head of steam when squeezed down to 90 minutes and the dramatic demands of the feature-film format; and the key cast badly lacks a strong enough figure to replace the bitch-on-wheels chief editor played by Liang Xiaobing 梁小冰, who moved on at the end of the TVD. But the main problem is that the plot is neither compelling nor developed enough to sustain movie treatment, and there’s a distinct lack of action as well as human drama. It all just looks too small.

In the absence of Liang’s chief editor, one of the TVD’s reporters, Fang Ning, has been upped to acting editor, a role that’s well played by TV actress Zhou Jiayi 周家仪, 37, but with no authority. As the newbie-turned-staffer, Yang Qi 杨淇, 32, is still unbelievable as a photojournalist and her big facial mannerisms are even more annoying here. Coming off best of the TV cast is 38-year-old Wang Zongyao 王宗尧 (the suave sexual mentor in comedy Due West: Our Sex Journey 一路向西, 2012), whose ethically-troubled reporter provides some kind of dramatic focus, if fleeting. Unfortunately, the whole enterprise is almost sunk by veteran character actor Wu Mengda 吴孟达 [Ng Man-tat], here in a rare leading role as an aggrieved father who takes hostages at a TV station in order to get justice against his daughter’s murderer. Wu’s gross over-acting destroys what should be a sympathetic central role.

One of the keystones of the TVD – the ethical dimensions of journalism, especially in a click-bait age – seems even more gratuitous and simplistic here, especially the heroes’ last-minute conversion to principles over clicks. In that respect, The Menu is no better or worse than other periodic attacks of conscience by the media about itself. But the film-makers also seem to have a more local agenda as well: the story is pointedly set in Jan 2015, a month after the end of the Occupy Central/Umbrella Movement (never mentioned), and the ridiculous finale, which whips up a mass street demonstration in a matter of minutes via social media, hymns people power over executive power. The end-title song then wraps up both themes (media self-importance, people power) with lyrics that “we’re not afraid…that’s why we’re here – to make the world a better place.” Right. (Ironically, the movie is co-funded by Mainland companies.)

The film’s technical package is okay but modest overall. The original title roughly means “News Fuse”.

CREDITS

Presented by China 3D Digital Entertainment (HK), YL Pictures (CN), Jetsen Cultural Industry Group (CN), Rock Partner Film (CN). Produced by New Pioneer (HK).

Script: Pan Manhong, Zhao Mei’er, Huang Anpei, He Le. Photography: Hu Hengtai. Editing: Wang Yuming. Music: Jiang Hui. Art direction: Xu Ming. Costume design: Wen Huisha. Sound: Lian Wenming. Action: Huang Weiliang [Jack Wong]. Visual effects: Huang Hongda, Yu Tianlong (vfx Nova Digital).

Cast: Zhou Jiayi (Fang Ning), Wang Zongyao (Le Jiahui), Wu Mengda [Ng Mang-tat] (Tan Ruizhi), Yang Qi (Mai Xiaoxin/Mie/Mallory), Fang Jianyi (Li Sisi, C99 newscaster), Zhang Jiansheng (Zhuang Yayuan, Smart Post group publisher), Yang Shangbin (Yang Haofeng, Flash Post reporter), He Peiyu (Zhong Kaiqi, Flash Post photographer), Guo Feng (Guan Zhiwei, Smart Post publisher), Gong Ci’en [Mimi Kung] (Zhan Ruihua, Tan Ruizhi’s wife), Li Feng (He Liyun, Smart Post proofreader), Jiang Wenjie (Wang Zijian/Kenny, former Smart Post photographer), Chen Yingyan (Yuan Meiyi/Emily, Smart Post entertainment editor), Yang Tianjing (Mo Yuncai, Smart Post finance editor), Wen Chao (Fang Qicong, Smart Post reporter), Zhang Songzhi (Tang Weigang/Gordon, government news co-ordinator), Bao Kang’er (Zhou Yongwei/Winnie, Smart Post art director), Tang Beishi (Lin Peisha, Smart Post reporter), Zhuang Simin (negotiator), Li Mingming (Gao Jianren, rapist/killer), Deng Jiajie (Peng Antai, Smart Post reporter), Xu Haochang (Zhang Shaobang, Smart Post reporter), Ruan Aiting (Ou Jiayu, Smart Post reporter), Mai Haolan (Qi Jiancong, Smart Post reporter), Fang Zhiju (Zhao Zhengliang, witness), Yuan Ziqiao (Li Siru, Flash Post reporter), Yu Silu (Su Yunling, Flash Post chief editor), He Huachao (Zhong Peihe, Legislative Council member), Dazui Migao [Michael Lee] (Gao Yaoqiu, Gao Jianren’s father), Liang Xiaobing (Wang Hailan/Alma, Smart Post former chief editor).

Release: Hong Kong, 4 Aug 2016; China, Jun 2017.