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Review: Full Strike (2015)

Full Strike

全力扣杀

Hong Kong/China, 2015, colour, 2.35:1, 107 mins.

Directors: Guo Zijian 郭子健 [Derek Kwok], Wang Zhiheng 王智亨 [Henri Wong].

Rating: 5/10.

Offbeat comedy about a group of losers training for a badminton contest is holed by a ragged script.

STORY

Hong Kong, New Territories, the present day. Ten years ago Wu Jiuxiu (He Chaoyi) was a champion badminton player but was banned because of her hot temper; now she is overweight, sleeps rough, and works in the kitchen of the restaurant of her elder brother Wu Jiujin (Xie Junhao). One night, while cycling near an old school owned by her elder brother and uncle, she sees a shuttlecock-shaped object fall from the sky and then follows an alien (Yang Di) to the school. Inside, where the floor is strewn with shuttlecocks, she’s attacked by the alien and then rescued by three men – former convicted killer Liu Dan (Zheng Yijian) and his associates Lin Zhao (Liang Hanwen) and Ma Kun (Liu Haolong), all now reformed – who turn out to be renting the school to set up a badminton association. Intrigued, Wu Jiuxiu turns up on the first day, as does an old local woman, Auntie Mei (Shao Yinyin); also arriving is a spacey badminton trainer with his pupils, to see whether Liu Dan & Co. are genuine. When Wu Jiuxiu is persuaded to play a game against the trainer and his star pupil, she beats them easily. Afterwards, Wu Jiuxiu discovers that the trainer is actually her uncle’s son, Wu Jiuxiang (Zheng Zhongji), who’s just returned from the US and is passionate about restoring the reputation of the Chinese in the sport. Liu Dan asks Wu Jiuxiu to train him and his associates so they can enter a TV championship being held in Macau, as their proper trainer, badminton master Qi (Lin Mincong), is perpetually drunk or comatose.

REVIEW

Five years after his modest retro-comedy Gallants 打擂台 (2010), Hong Kong writer-director Guo Zijian 郭子健 [Derek Kwok] returns to similar, character-based material with Full Strike 全力扣杀, in which a group of losers try for a second chance at life via a badminton competition. In the interval between the two films Guo has had a spell in big-budgetdom – as co-writer and associate director to Zhou Xingchi 周星驰 [Stephen Chow] on mega-hit Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons 西游 降魔篇 (2013) and as writer-director on fireman action-drama As the Light Goes Out 救火英雄 (2014) – and those experiences seem to have enlarged his tool-kit: Strike has a slicker surface than Gallants and more confidence in pushing the limits. Unfortunately, the film also has the same ragged approach to script structure that’s plagued Guo’s career, becoming a conventional let’s-win-the-championship movie after an out-there and characterful first half.

Like Gallants, Strike is set in the New Territories, centres on a varied group of oldies and outsiders, and observes their (not necessarily successful) attempt to re-validate themselves after a period “away” from society. Unlike Gallants, which was a loving tribute to local martial-arts films of the 1960s and 1970s, it doesn’t have any retro flavour; instead, it pushes the comedy into devil-may-care areas. Thus, one night a badminton champion, who was banned for her temper tantrums 10 years ago, sees a shuttlecock-shaped object fall from the sky, follows an alien who emerges from it, and ends up in a rural school that’s being rented by three convicted killers to rehabilitate themselves by setting up a badminton club. Really.

The first half goes for a broad, non-urban Hong Kong humour, played (a) to the hilt by bozo comedian Zheng Zhongji 郑中基 [Ronald Cheng] as a potty-mouthed badminton fanatic, (b) way more subtly by Zheng Yijian 郑伊健 [Ekin Cheng] as a reformed murderer, and (c) somewhere inbetween by actresses He Chaoyi 何超仪 [Josie Ho] and veteran Shao Yinyin 邵音音 [Susan Shaw], as the ex-badminton champ and a gung-ho old local.

Producing through her own company 852 Films – which also made the offbeat exploitation movies Dream Home 维多利亚壹号 (2010) and Revenge: A Love Story 复仇者之死 (2010) – He is so low-key on screen that she effectively yields what is trailed at the start as the leading character to her male co-stars (playing misfits, drunks and ex-gangsters). It’s one of many imbalances and unresolved plot strands that litter the script – easy enough to ignore in the early going, because of the rumbustuous comic antics, fruity language and vomit jokes, but harder later on when the writers basically give up and devote the final 40 minutes to interminable scenes of badminton.

The likeable (if unbelievable) performance by Zheng Yijian as a reformed killer, and the masterclass in sozzled humour by Lin Mincong 林敏聪 as an alcoholic badminton master, maintain interest until the final stretch. On the technical side, things are helped along by As the Light‘s d.p. Guan Zhiyao 关智耀 [Jason Kwan], Guo’s regular editor Xu Weijie 许伟杰 [Matthew Hui] and, in his first major film score, mock-Morricone/Huang Feihong music by Japanese American Hatano Yusuke 波多野裕介.

Guo’s co-director/writer is visual-effects supervisor Wang Zhiheng 王智亨 [Henri Wong], though the film has very few VFX apart from at the start. According to the end credits, their script was based on a “first draft” by Taiwan horrormeister Qian Renhao 钱人豪 (Buttonman 钮扣人, 2008; Zombie 108 Z108弃城, 2012) – which may explain all the ghoulish parody in the opening section – and Hong Kong’s Yan Jiayi 严嘉仪 (who co-wrote Guo’s teenage romantic drama Frozen 为你钟情, 2010) and Zhen Bairong 甄柏荣 (Let’s Go! 保卫战队之出动喇!朋友!, 2011).

CREDITS

Presented by 852 Films (HK), Big Honor Entertainment (HK), Shanghai Inlook Vision (CN).

Script: Guo Zijian [Derek Kwok], Wang Zhiheng [Henri Wong]. First-draft script: Qian Renhao, Yan Jiayi, Zhen Bairong. Photography: Guan Zhiyao [Jason Kwan]. Editing: Xu Weijie [Matthew Hui]. Music: Hatano Yusuke. Art direction: Li Zifeng. Costume design: Huang Aiwei. Styling: Li Bijun [Lee Bik-kwan]. Sound: Mai Zhi’an, Zheng Yingyuan [Phyllis Cheng], Ye Zhaoji. Action: Huang Weiliang [Jack Wong], Chen Shaohua. Visual effects: Lin Hongfeng, Li Wenjun, Lin Junyu (Free-D Workshop). Badminton advice: Ling Wanting.

Cast: He Chaoyi [Josie Ho] (Wu Jiuxiu/Beast), Zheng Yijian [Ekin Cheng] (Liu Dan), Zheng Zhongji [Ronald Cheng] (Wu Jiuxiang/Nai Zixiang/Suck Nipple, Wu Jiuxiu’s cousin), Xie Junhao (Wu Jiujun, Wu Jiuxiu’s elder brother), Lin Mincong (Qi, badminton master), Liang Hanwen (Lin Zhao, Liu Dan’s associate), Liu Haolong [Wilfred Lau] (Ma Kun, Liu Dan’s associate), Shao Yinyin [Susan Shaw] (Auntie Mei), Guo Weiliang (Wang Longwei), Ye Peiwen (Wang Feihuang), Xie Tianhua [Michael Tse] (Zhang, police inspector), Jiang Bowen [Philip Keung] (Gou/Crazy Dog, old gangster), Brian Siswojo (gangster), Chen Fei, Liang Yongjie (police badminton team players), Che Wanwan (policewoman), Gu Zulin [Jo Kuk] (her colleague), Gu Dezhao [Vincent Kok] (leader of police badminton team), Zou Kaiguang [Matt Chow] (Yao Bin/Benny), Cai Jiazhi, Huang Haode (badminton players), Du Rufeng (female spectator), Bao Chunlai (himself), Wang Lin (herself), Yang Di (“alien”), Tang Ping (Ping), Lin Shengbin, Xu Yating (MCs), Yang Shimin (Lin Lian), Ling Wanting (police badminton team player), Huang Zhiheng [Henri Wong] (male spectator).

Premiere: Osaka Asian Film Festival (Special Focus on Hong Kong 2015), 13 Mar 2015.

Release: Hong Kong, 7 May 2015; China, 11 Dec 2015.