China/Taiwan, 2017, colour, 2.35:1, 95 mins.
Director: Xu Jinglei 徐静蕾.
Lamely written crime action-drama promises much but fails to deliver on anything.
Xuanyu city, somewhere in East Asia, Aug 2015. After receiving a call from the kidnapper of her five-year-old daughter Lin Miaodian, serious crimes detective Lin Wei (Bai Baihe) gives chase and watches as his car crashes. The man, Yang Nian (Huang Lixing), is taken to hospital unconscious. When he wakes up, he’s attacked by a mystery assailant who’s already killed the two police guards outside. Yang Nian kills the assassin and escapes. Lin Wei and her colleagues, including team leader Lu Ran (Ming Dao) who was her old partner at police academy, give chase but finally lose him. Five children have gone missing so far, possibly linked to an organ trafficking gang; Lin Wei’s daughter has been missing for over a day. Lin Wei is strung out but refuses to go home to rest. Meanwhile, Yang Nian has amnesia from the car crash and can’t remember who he is or what he did. After stealing some money, he transforms himself and, going to police HQ, manages to steal his own file. By chance Lin Wei spots him and gives chase but loses him again. The serious crimes department head, Zhou Tao (Tao Hai), wants her off the cse as she is too emotionally involved, but she refuses. Tracing Yang Nian to a KTV club, she manages to handcuff and privately interrogate him in her car, but Yang Nian remembers nothing. After snatching her gun, he again escapes; as a result, Lin Wei is grouded by Zhou Tao. A casino KTV girl tells Yang Nian he used to go around with a gang leader called Lei Jun (Liang Tian); however, when he meets Lei Jun, the latter says Yang Nian betrayed him. Escaping from Lei Jun’s men, Yang Nian is picked up by Lin Wei, who takes him to a hotel. After calling Lu Ran, the only colleague she trusts, Lin Wei learns that Lei Jun has a luxury yacht on which her daughter may be. But when she and Yang Nian arrive, all hell breaks loose. Lin Wei suspects there is a mole in the police force.
File The Missing.. 绑架者 under “major disappointment”. A crime drama that looks like being an interesting riff on the genre – as a police detective is thrown together with her daughter’s kidnapper, who in turn has amnesia – it’s a film that promises to be many things but ends up failing to be any. Thanks largely to a screenplay that’s all over the place, but also to the direction and some key casting, the film doesn’t succeed as an offbeat relationships drama, only just scrapes by as a so-so action movie, is stillborn as a conspiracy/mole thriller, and features one after another laughable plot development that shows its creators have absolutely no feel for the genre. Amazingly, the name on the can is that of actress-director-producer Xu Jinglei 徐静蕾, 43, who normally (apart from her last film, Somewhere Only We Know 有一个地方只有我们知道, 2015) is a byword for quality.
Kudos goes to Xu for her radical change of direction after five relationship movies; but there’s a feeling throughout Missing that no one really understands what they’re doing. To riff on a genre, one has to first understand that genre; but the script, by Henan-born writer Yang Yishu 杨翌舒 (Chongqing Blues 日照重庆, 2010; Beijing Flickers 有种, 2012), contains so many procedural implausibilities, ludicrous coincidences and gaping plot holes that it’s clear neither writer has done her homework. Added to which, though the film’s visual style is hard-edged and realistic – apart from lots of woozy imagery for memory flashbacks – the plotting and procedural details are anything but realistic; and the lead character, who spends most of her time being massively incompetent or having screaming fits, is so unsympathetic that Missing can’t get off the ground as either an offbeat relationship movie or a study of a conflicted young cop/mother.
All of which is doubly disappointing given that Missing stars not only Xu’s favourite actor, Taiwan American actor-singer Huang Lixing 黄立行 [Stanley Huang] – so good in Go Lala Go! 杜拉拉升职记 (2010) and Dear Enemy 亲密敌人 (2011) – but also one of China’s most exciting younger actresses, Bai Baihe 白百合, 33. Both make career swerves here: Huang from rom-coms to playing a tough, athletic kidnapper, Bai from rom-coms to playing a tough cop-cum-angry mum. Huang, 42, is entirely convincing in a largely physical role as a hard case with amnesia, but Bai, who can generally make any movie watchable, just seems wrong, radiating neither professional competence nor maternal grief. Though she looks cool in shades, hers is a casting gamble that simply doesn’t work.
Part of the problem is that the script and dialogue don’t give her much to work with, beyond obvious displays of emotion; but the actress also can’t make the leap from kooky to ballsy in a convincing way. As her team leader, Taiwan boybander-turned-actor Ming Dao 明道 (Close to You 近在咫尺, 2010; Let’s Get Married 咱们结婚吧, 2015) is bland in what should be a pivotal supporting role, while Mainland comedian Liang Tian 梁天 is only around briefly for a more successful piece of counter-casting as a ruthless gangster. Xu herself cameos briefly at the end in a final twist.
How much of Missing‘s failure can be blamed on Yang beyond her writing is unclear: she’s also credited as “associate director” and has past experience in directing, editing, photography and production on documentaries. Action staging is OK without being special, and is too often watered down by over-vigorous editing; music is weak, adding no tension or atmosphere. The film’s realism is also diminished by two of the lead actors (Huang, Ming) having Taiwan accents and the action being set, like the Black & White 痞子英雄 crime duo (2012, 2014), in a fictional city and unidentified country that are clearly recognisable as Gaoxiong and Taiwan. In one shot a tracking system actually shows co-ordinates for northern Taiwan.
The Chinese title means “The Kidnapper(s)”. The film grossed a very underwhelming RMB96 million.
Presented by Wanda Media (CN), Beijing Kaila Pictures (CN), Beijing Hualu Baina Film & TV Production (CN), Machi Entertainment Group (TW).
Script: Yang Yishu. Photography: Jian Liwei. Editing: Zhang Jia, Wu Yanqiang, Jing Jiangli. Music: An Wei. Song: Yang Naiwen. Art direction: Guo Yijun, Zheng Zhihan. Sound: An Wei. Associate direction: Yang Yishu.
Cast: Bai Baihe (Lin Wei), Huang Lixing [Stanley Huang] (Yang Nian/Deng Jiaming), Ming Dao (Lu Ran, team leader), Xu Jinglei (undercover police agent), Li Chun (Xiao K, young detective), Tao Hai (Zhou Tao, department head), Liang Tian (Lei Jun, triad boss), Yi Gu-cheol (Zhao Daqi, detective).
Release: China, 31 Mar 2017; Taiwan, tba.