China, 2011, colour, 2.35:1, 85 mins.
Director: Li Yuan 李远.
A chaotic script and some key miscasting cut the legs off this wannabe caper comedy.
Beijing, 2010. Working for an unseen party, a gang of thieves, led by Zhao Ying (Gao Jie) and Min Yue (Yi Nengjing), plans the robbery from Jingtang Museum of a valuable scroll painting of legendary Tang dynasty swordswoman-cum-assassin Nie Yinniang (Qi Wei). On the night, the actual robbers, Da Li (Wang Daqi) and Wu Ya (Bao Hongbiao), are so incompetent that they burn a hole in the painting with a cigarette. Min Yue recommends they hire an expert restorer she once worked with called Magic Hand; she believes his real name is Li Zhenmu (Ren Dahua), now editor-in-chief of men’s monthly For Him Magazine and a perfumery expert. Li Zhenmu refuses the first overture by Zhao Ying, so Min Yue sets about seducing him. However, her efforts are interrupted by the sudden death of Li Zhenmu’s ex-wife and the arrival of his 20-year-old daughter, Miao Xin (Wei Na), whom he never knew. Miao Xin can’t forgive her father for the break-up around the time of her birth and fends off his attempts to get to know her. She also warns off Min Yue from dating him. Worried that Miao Xin is spending all her time clubbing and playing snooker, he assigns one of his building’s security guards, Teng Wei (Xia Dejun), who also happened to be working at the museum on the night of the robbery, to follow her. She manages to turn the tables on him and blackmails him into staging her own kidnap, just to annoy her father. Teng Wei, who’s taken a liking to Miao Xin, resists. At the same time, however, Zhao Ying has ordered the bumbling Da Li and Wu Ya to kidnap Miao Xin for real, to force Li Zhenmu’s hand into restoring the painting.
There’s nothing wrong with Mainland comedy caper Coming Back 回马枪 that several more rewrites, a couple of casting changes and a larger budget couldn’t put right. As it stands, the film is a mess of ideas and conflicting moods that hardly coheres from one scene to another and never seems to get off the ground. It all looks fine, thanks to the clean, neatly composed widescreen photography by Zhao Yuqing 赵昱清 (horror Who under the Bed 床下有人, 2011; high-school romance How Are You 李雷和韩梅梅, 2017); but the cast seems to be working hard to animate something that refuses to come to life. The comedy is never really funny, the action is never really diverting, and what starts out as a wannabe crime caper slowly morphs into a light drama about a father and his long-lost daughter. This first feature by Zhejiang-born writer-director Li Yuan 李远, then 33, failed to animate the box office at the time (RMB9 million), and it was to be five years before he realised his potential with the family drama Dinner for Six 六人晚餐 (2016).
The biggest casting mistake is Hong Kong’s Ren Dahua 任达华 [Simon Yam] as a onetime art restorer-turned-men’s magazine editor-cum-parfumery expert who’s asked – and then forced – by a gang of crooks to restore a painting that got damaged during its theft from a museum. Ren looks uncomfortable in the ridiculous role and transmits that unease to the viewer; to compound the problem, he’s then asked to become a guilt-ridden father trying to patch things up with his long-lost, resentful daughter. While that’s going on, the crime plot careens on, some romance starts between the daughter and her bozo bodyguard, a double-kidnap idea leads to some knockabout comedy, and at the hour point the whole film halts for a flashback to the Tang dynasty to explain who the painting’s subject is. (It’s fictional swordswoman Nie Yinniang, subject of The Assassin 刺客聂隐娘, 2015, and here reasonably played by actress-singer Qi Wei 戚薇, 26)
Taiwan’s Yi Nengjing 伊能静 [Annie Yi], then 42, is also miscast as a femme-fatale crook and looks equally uncomfortable in her scenes with Ren, then 56; the bigger problem, however, is that the script doesn’t know what to do with her, especially later on. Her place as the film’s female lead is effectively taken over by Wei Na 韦娜 (aka Wei Ni 维妮) as the daughter, in a spirited performance by the Xinjiang-born actress-model that curiously doesn’t rate a credit in the front titles. For the rest, Taiwan’s Gao Jie 高捷 [Jack Kao] phones in a lighter version of his patented gangster character, while veteran Taiwan action star Zheng Peipei 郑佩佩 pops up for a few seconds in a flashback and Mainland electro-pop singer Shang Wenjie 尚雯婕 cameos equally briefly as a suitably weird-looking museum head. Yes, it’s that kind of throw-it-all-in-the-pot movie.
Though brief, the historical flashbacks with their well-staged action scenes suggest that Li should some day turn his hand to the martial-arts genre. The film’s Chinese title means “A Parthian Shot” or “Parting Shot”, presumably referring to the daughter’s revenge on her father.
Presented by Sunny Sky Culture & Media Investment (CN), Beijing Huashi Jinhui Media & Entertainment Technology (CN). Produced by Sunny Sky Culture & Media Investment (CN).
Script: Li Yuan. Photography: Zhao Yuqing. Editing: Tang Hua. Music production: Zhao Zhao. Art direction: Wu Xingguang. Costumes: Chen Hongfei. Sound: Li Tao, Wu Wei. Action: Li Wenbin, Miao Sheng. Visual effects: Mei Wenyu, Xu Defeng. Executive direction: Ma Xueyuan.
Cast: Ren Dahua [Simon Yam] (Li Zhenmu/Shen Shou/Magic Hand), Yi Nengjing [Annie Yi] (Min Yue), Gao Jie [Jack Kao] (Zhao Ying), Xia Dejun (Teng Wei), Qi Wei (Nie Yinniang), Wang Daqi (Da Li), Zheng Peipei (Shen Ni/Mysterious Nun), Shang Wenjie (Qiu San, museum head), Wei Na (Miao Xin, Li Zhenmu’s daughter), Bai Hongbiao (Wu Ya), He Ziming (Ma Xing, Zhao Ying’s enforcer), Shou Ma (executive editor), Chang Cheng (Nie Feng, Nie Yinniang’s father), Yuan Chengjie (ADC), Zuo Tengyun, Zi Yi (perfume salesmen), Huang Qiange (Su Ma), Chen Zheng (senior security guard), Xiao Yi (Liu Changyi), Zhang Xi (Miaoshou Jingjing’er), Ruan Weijing (Tiger), Du Yuxun (young Nie Yinniang).
Release: China, 15 Jul 2011.