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Review: The Brink (2017)

The Brink

狂兽

Hong Kong/China, 2017, colour, 2.35:1, 98 mins.

Director: Li Zijun 李子俊 [Jonathan Li].

Rating: 5/10.

The air soon goes out of the bag in this generic, increasingly ridiculous action drama.

STORY

Hong Kong, the present day. In a dilapidated building police detective Zhang Haodong (Zhang Jin) battles his way into the headquarters of a gang, and one man (Wu Yun) plummets to his death. The man was a corrupt fellow detective and Zhang Haodong is arrested for his killing; six months later, however, he is acquitted for lack of evidence. He tells Keyan (Su Lishan), the dead officer’s father, that now she has turned 18 his legal guardianship of her has officially ended. Following a tip that some gold is being smuggled into Mawen village, Zhang Haodong and his colleague Yan Zhide (Wu Yue) – who’s actually just handed in his notice – go there, and find bodies hanging from the trees. They surprise fisherman-smuggler Jiang Guicheng (Yu Wenle) as he’s about to kill Sheng (Zeng Guoxiang), who has recently taken over the gang from his father, Chen Shuisheng (Tai Bao). After a fight, Jiang Guicheng and Sheng escape. Next day Jiang Guicheng first kills Sheng and then seriously wounds Chen Shuisheng; arriving soon afterwards, Zhang Haodong arrests Chen Shuisheng, who later tells him Jiang Guicheng killed Sheng. Zhang Haodong and Yan Zhide go to Jordan wet market to find Jiang Guicheng, but the latter, helped by explosives specialist Xue (Wen Yongshan), manages to kidnap Yan Zhide and offers to swap him next day for Chen Shuisheng. Zhang Haodong’s boss, inspector Chen Yaohui (Lin Jiadong), takes charge of the swap but loses touch with Zhang Haodong. The operation ends with Chen Shuisheng dead, Xue wounded and Jiang Guicheng escaping. After Chen Yaohui tells Zhang Haodong some information about Yan Zhide, the two eventually team up to launch a two-man mission of their own. Meanwhile, Jiang Guicheng needs to settle things with his big boss Chen Dinggui (Kurata Yasuaki), who has a floating casino in international waters off Hong Kong.

REVIEW

After some punchy action in the first few reels, the air quickly starts going out of the bag in Hong Kong action-drama The Brink 狂兽 as the plotting gets more raggedy and the characters lose all credibility, let alone sympathy. Teaming Mainland martial artist Zhang Jin 张晋 as a maverick police detective and Hong Kong’s Yu Wenle 余文乐 [Shawn Yue] as a ruthless fisherman-smuggler, the film is capsized by a workaday script, a South Korean-style taste for sadism, and a total lack of chemistry between the cast, all of whom perform in their own spaces rather than with each other. By the time the setpiece finale arrives – a fight on a trawler in the middle of a typhoon – it’s all too much, too late for this directing debut by former assistant director Li Zijun 李子俊 [Jonathan Li], who’s worked with the likes of Liu Weiqiang 刘伟强 [Andrew Lau], Zhuang Wenqiang 庄文强 [Felix Chong] and Zheng Baorui 郑保瑞 [Soi Cheang]. Zheng is on board here as a producer and his fingerprints are all over the film. Audiences, however, weren’t impressed: Mainland box office was a weedy RMB68 million.

There’s nothing innately wrong with the two leads. As the reckless, maverick cop, Zhang (the sadistic chief warden in Zheng’s SPL2: A Time for Consequences 杀破狼II, 2015) has a glassy-eyed stare under his blond hairdo that’s every bit as manic as the look of Yu’s psychotic fisherman-smuggler, decked out with a straggly goatee and long hair. The pair are equally driven characters who are meant to power the film; the problem is that they are asked to do increasingly ridiculous things with no apparent motivation and have no real inter-action either with each other or with anyone else. (A death scene, for example, between Yu’s smuggler and his devoted sidekick, played by Hong Kong actress Wen Yongshan 文咏珊 [Janice Man], is a complete joke.)

The generic script by Li Chunhui 李春晖, who contributed to Zheng’s Dog Bite Dog 狗咬狗 (2006), is entirely composed of setpiece cliches pushed to the extreme, with no interest in character, motivation, coherency or emotional consistency. As an action anti-hero, Zhang is a neat and acrobatic mover but his character is simply a convenient construct of conflicting drives, with no personality. And as the plot’s loose ends accumulate, the violence seems more and more unnecessary, geekily applied rather than properly shocking. Then, at the 70-minute point, when the film is basically all over bar the shouting, the story cranks up again (“three months later”) for the grand typhoon finale that lasts almost 20 minutes. The sequence, shot in a South Korean tank, is technically well mounted but is attached to a movie that long ago lost any dramatic oomph.

Other roles are just OK, with actors doing their thing and no more: Lin Jiadong 林家栋 [Gordon Lam] as an exasperated police boss, Japan’s Kurata Yasuaki 仓田保昭 as a crimelord on a floating casino, and Hong Kong action veteran Tai Bao 太保 as an ageing gang boss. Female roles are simply decorative, with scriptwriter Li seemingly unsure what to do with them.

Widescreen photography by Xie Zhongdao 谢忠道 [Kenny Tse] (SPL2) has a typically grey, hard look. The music, however, adds nothing and, with a crazed vocal at the end, is positively destructive to any mood-building. The film’s Chinese title means “Crazy Beast(s)”.

CREDITS

Presented by Sil-Metropole Organisation (HK), Sun Entertainment Culture (HK), iQiyi Motion Pictures (CN), YL Pictures (CN). Produced by Sun Entertainment Culture (HK).

Script: Li Chunhui. Photography: Xie Zhongdao [Kenny Tse]. Underwater photography: Ao Cunkang. Editing: Peng Zhengxi [Curran Pang]. Music: Zhong Zhirong, Zhang Zhaohong. Art direction: Li Zifeng. Costume design: Zhong Chuting. Action: Li Zhongzhi [Nicky Li]. Visual effects: Lin Hongfeng, Cai Minghan (Free-D Workshop).

Cast: Zhang Jin (Zhang Haodong/Xi Gou), Yu Wenle [Shawn Yue] (Jiang Guicheng), Wen Yongshan [Janice Man] (Xue), Wu Yue (Yan Zhide), Lin Jiadong [Gordon Lam] (Chen Yaohui, police inspector), Tai Bao [Zhang Jianian] (Chen Shuisheng), Kurata Yasuaki (Chen Dinggui), Su Lishan (Keyan), Hui Xiong (Jin Fu), Zeng Guoxiang [Derek Tsang] (Sheng, Chen Shuisheng’s son), Wu Yun (Keyan’s father).

Premiere: Busan Film Festival (Midnight Passion), 13 Oct 2017.

Release: Hong Kong, 23 Nov 2017; China, 10 Nov 2017.