Review: Black & White: The Dawn of Justice (2014)

Black & White: The Dawn of Justice

痞子英雄  黎明升起

China/Taiwan, 2014, colour, 2.35:1, 3-D, 120 mins.

Director: Cai Yuexun.

Rating: 5/10.

Second instalment in the Taiwan action franchise is a marginal improvement.

STORY

Harbour City, somewhere in Asia, the present day, 09:05. Wu Yingxiong, aka Hero Wu (Zhao Youting), charismatic Southern Precinct Homicide Division detective, is in the middle of a chase after terrorists on Highway 3, during which he meets Chen Zhen (Lin Gengxin), a detective from the Eastern Precinct who is also on the case. Soon afterwards, wanted criminals start blowing themselves up all over the city, including on the Cross-Sea Bridge, where forensics officer Lan Xiying (Zhang Junning) is almost killed while driving to work. The bombings are designed to physically cut Harbour City off from the outside world. Hero and Chen Zhen spot wanted criminal Xu Dafu (Huang Bo) – whom Hero had previously let escape as thanks for saving his life – driving along in a bomb suit that’s triggered by a GPS device. They stop Xu Dafu in a road tunnel, where they end up confronted by the terrorists. They manage to escape but the tunnel is blown up and Harbour City is sealed off. Xu Dafu says he was forced to wear the bomb suit as his wife, Du Xiaoqing (Guan Ying), who is seven months’ pregnant, has been kidnapped by the terrorists. Seriously wounded, he becomes separated from Hero and Chen Zhen. Meanwhile, Lan Xiying reaches the Southern Precinct, to find it too destroyed by a suicide bomber. The terrorist group Nightwalkers has stolen some electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) rockets, plus the biochemical weapon Irukandji, from the military and plan to wipe out humankind and initiate a new, purer age. To try to rescue Xu Dafu’s wife, Hero and Chen Zhen go to an abandoned cement works, which has already been surrounded by Black Hawk special forces, and a battle ensues with the terrorists. Meanwhile, army chief Pu Zhigang (Li Mingshun) goes to the EMP Centre to initiate the EMP defence system; subsequently, however, it is dismantled by Nightwalkers terrorist Ann (Liu Bili). Captured during the battle at the cement works, Hero and Chen Zhen are taken to meet Nightwalkers leader Lan Xi’en (Cai Yuexun) who has 12 hostages connected to an EMP rocket on the roof of the building. He gives Hero a device that will blow up the rocket and save mankind, but adds that it will also kill the hostages.

REVIEW

Taiwan’s wannabe action-blockbuster franchise returns for a second instalment with Black & White: The Dawn of Justice 痞子英雄  黎明升起, beefed up by major investment from China (where the first movie made most of its money), the return of Mainland comic Huang Bo 黄渤 in a guest role, and marginally better direction by Cai Yuexun 蔡岳勋 (who made the original Taiwan TV series) compared with the fiasco of Black & White Episode 1: The Dawn of Assault 痞子英雄首部  全面开战 (2012). With a more sensible running time of two rather than two-and-a-half hours, and the partnering of the super-cop played by Taiwan’s Zhao Youting 赵又廷 [Mark Chao] with charismatic young Mainland actor Lin Gengxin 林更新 – Zhao’s sidekick in Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon 狄仁杰之神都龙王 (2013) – Justice just about makes it across the finishing line, propelled by a story that has its heroes running from one deadline to another as a mad terrorist threatens to unleash a deadly virus. But despite a new Taiwan scriptwriter and change of most key crew, the basic weaknesses of the series are still in place – notably, a blank-faced and unlikeable hero and a cut-and-paste screenplay with no shape and dull dialogue.

Set again in the fictional Asian metropolis of Harbour City – doubled by Taiwan’s southern port of Gaoxiong – the movie plunges straight into an action setpiece and hardly lets up thereafter as the story is squeezed into a 24-hour period. With photography, editing, production design and action in different hands this time round, the combined result is slightly slicker and better looking, with some martial arts that fleetingly recall 1980s Hong Kong set-tos (fights in a cement works and a container park) and good visual effects that are scaled back to workable proportions and make sensible use of 3-D. But even with the action shoehorned into a tighter time-frame, there’s still no sense of accumulated drama or tension, with the plot bouncing hither and thither and returning Thai composer Terdsak Janpan again failing to build any suspense.

An actor who is capable of better things with the right script and direction (Monga 艋舺, 2010; First Time 第一次, 2012; So Young 致我们终将逝去的青春, 2013), Zhao again looks miscast as an action hero, and is mostly just very boring. Lin, who was good in Young Detective Dee and especially so in My Old Classmate 同桌的妳 (2014), is the only actor to carve a real character, as the wryly humorous sidekick, but still fails to establish any chemistry with Zhao’s super-cop. Huang dutifully punches the clock in a guest role as the hero’s old “partner”, while Taiwan veteran Jin Shijie 金士杰 briefly anchors the drama as the city’s commander-in-chief. Hidden behind a beard, and uncredited, director Cai himself plays the terrorist leader, though with little charisma.

The Chinese title means “Punk Hero(es): Dawn Rises”. [In the Mainland the film grossed RMB204 million, dramatically up on the RMB87 million of the first instalment but by no means a major hit.]

CREDITS

Presented by Beijing Hualu Baina Film & TV (CN), Prajna Works Entertainment (TW), Gravity Pictures Film Production (TW), China Film (CN), Dongyang Hualu Baina Film & TV Production (CN), Top Ensign Media (CN), Gravity Pictures International (CN).

Script: Chen Yifang. Original story: Zhao Youting [Mark Chao], Shao Huiting, Huang Jingzu, Wang Guoguang, Chen Guanting, Wang Liwen. Photography: Ye Shaoqing, Qiu Wenyi. Editing: Jiang Yining, Xie Mengru. Music: Terdsak Janpan. Production design: Akatsuka Yoshihito. Costume design: Vaughan Alexander, Chen Yuguang. Sound: Zheng Xuzhi [Frank Cheng]. Action: Jack Gill. Martial arts: Ron Yuan, Lan Haihan. Special effects: R. Bruce Steinheimer, Lin Zhemin, Xu Weijie. Car stunts: Chen Chunkun. Visual effects: Fabrice Lagayette, Olivier Cauwet (BUF). 3-D: Soulpower Culture Media. Executive direction: Zhang Zhifa, Yu Xiaohui.

Cast: Zhao Youting [Mark Chao] (Wu Yingxiong/Hero Wu), Lin Gengxin (Chen Zhen), Huang Bo (Xu Dafu), Zhang Junning (Lan Xiying), Xiu Jiekai (Huang Shikai, Black Hawks soldier), Guan Ying [Terri Kwan] (Du Xiaoqing), Zou Cheng’en (Cheng Nuo, male assassin), Liu Bili (Ann, female assassin), Gulnazar (Li Xiaomu), Cai Yuexun (Lan Xi’en, Nightwalkers leader, Lan Xiying’s elder brother), Tang Zhiwei (Chen Junlin), Wu Zhongqiang (Haoke/Hulk), Hong Chenying (Ai Lv/Green), Gan Demen (Li), Jin Shijie (commander-in-chief), Wang Yue (Guo Zhengyi, Harbour City mayor), Zhang Guozhu (Lan Yaoming, Lan Xi’en’s father), Zhu Luhao (National Police Agency head), Tao Chuanzheng (defence minister), Fu Lei (armaments head), Jiao Zhifang (military intelligence head), Yin Zhaode (military intelligence aide), Hu Jun (interior minister), Yun Zhongyue (intelligence head), Huang Huaichen (Black Hawks leader), Zhang Han (parliament aide), Zhou Yongxuan (combat commander), Liu Hanqiang (male Interpol agent), Kang Yinyin (female Interpol agent), Li Mingshun (Pu Zhigang, army chief of general staff), Hu Tingting (Luo Yongzhen, Nightwalkers liaison), Chen Handian (drug addict), Zhuang Yongxuan (drug trafficker), Cai Liyun (weapons team leader), Lin Sijie (SWAT leader).

Release: China, 1 Oct 2014; Taiwan, 2 Oct 2014.

(Review originally published on Film Business Asia, 31 Dec 2014.)