Hong Kong/China, 2011, colour, 2.35:1, 118 mins.
Directors: Mai Zhaohui 麦兆辉 [Alan Mak], Zhuang Wenqiang 庄文强 [Felix Chong].
A slicker, but also more conventional, follow-up to the 2009 bugging thriller.
Hong Kong, the present day. Former soldier Sima Nianzu (Wu Yanzu) has stock-market trader Luo Minsheng (Liu Qingyun), head of Minsheng Securities, under electronic surveillance. Followed one day by Sima Nianzu, Luo Minsheng at first manages to throw him off but is then hospitalised in a car crash. When a military bug is found in the wreckage of Luo Minsheng’s car, He Zhiqiang (Gu Tianle), a senior officer in the Security Bureau’s Anti-Terrorist Unit, is called in to investigate. He offers Luo Minsheng a deal: to help him find Sima Nianzu in exchange for turning a blind eye to Luo Minsheng’s share-trading activities. Luo Minsheng reluctantly agrees, and allows his office to be put under electronic surveillance. He Zhiqiang almost catches Sima Nianzu in a street chase, but the latter manages to escape back to the nursing home where he lives with his widowed mother (Jiao Jiao), who’s suffereing from Alzheimer’s. Before she completely loses her memory, Sima Nianzu’s mother wants her son to track down Huang Shitong (Zeng Jiang), whom she blames for the death of her husband, share trader Sima Xiang (Hu Feng), and the general ruination of her family. Huang Shitong is head of a secret cabal of stock-market players, known as the Landlord Club, that credited itself with saving Hong Kong’s economy from western manipulation after the stock-market crisis of 1973 but later became rich and arrogant itself, and has become involved in funding Middle East and Chechen armed groups. Luo Minsheng, the youngest member of the club, to which he was introduced by Sima Xiang, tells his colleagues he’s under surveillance by the anti-terrorist authorities, which causes consternation in their ranks. Meanwhile, Sima Nianzu continues his elaborate plan to lure Huang Shitong back from abroad and entrap him.
After being set up in the original film to return in the sequel, Hong Kong actor Wang Minde 王敏德 [Michael Wong] appears nowhere in Overheard 2 窃听风云2, which turns out to be a sequel to the 2009 movie in number only. Though it uses the same trio of lead actors in a story that involves electronic eavesdropping and illegal share-trading, the movie has no connection at all with the first one, as well as having a much glossier look (courtesy the same d.p., Pan Yaoming 潘耀明 [Anthony Pun]) and more conventional script (courtesy the same writer-directors, Mai Zhaohui 麦兆辉 [Alan Mak] and Zhuang Wenqiang 庄文强 [Felix Chong]). It’s still, however, a very watchable, slickly entertaining thriller – especially in its atmospheric first half – that shows the Infernal Affairs 无间道 (2002-03) creative duo of Mai and Zhuang maintaining their fresh roll after a post-IA dull patch, as well as providing some character meat for the more pin-uppy members of the acting trio, Gu Tianle 古天乐 [Louis Koo] and Wu Yanzu 吴彦祖 [Daniel Wu].
Given the film is only a thematic sequel, it’s unfair to compare the two movies on any level apart from their writing and direction. Overheard 2 is more successful at integrating the three main characters’ private lives into the narrative, largely because the attempts are briefer. However, despite the early promise that at least Mainland actress Huang Yi 黄奕 – playing the lawyer wife of the trader of Liu Qingyun 刘青云 [Lau Ching-wan] – would get a reasonable chunk of the dramatic pie, she’s basically sidelined once the plot gets going. Huang makes the most of her chances, but fellow Mainlander Ye Xuan 叶璇 [Michelle Ye], as the wife of Gu’s anti-terrorist officer, fares less well, in a cornily-written role that establishes no emotional chemistry between the two characters.
From its star trio to its host of veterans playing members of the corrupt Landlord Club, Overheard 2 is a guys’ movie, and none the worse for that. But Mai and Zhuang’s script doesn’t generate the same dramatic interplay between its leads that made the original film so involving, partly because Overheard 2 is more of a standard action-thriller with each of the trio following separate character arcs. In the first film, the three actors were either huddled together, focusing on the minutiae of electronic eavesdropping, or being frazzled by long hours on the job – all of which is good, in script terms, for building personal drama.
The movie is at its best in the first half, with the tight editing of Peng Zhengxi 彭正熙 [Curran Pang], ominous, pulsating score by Chen Guangrong 陈光荣 [Comfort Chan] and inventive action by Lin Di’an 林迪安 [Dion Lam] (motorbikes, wheeled bags) creating one after another sequence of mystery and tension. As the plot reveals itself – via rather clumsy chunks of expository dialogue and flashback – the tension accumulated earlier on seeps away, to be replaced by a fairly standard anti-corruption drama. Mai and Zhuang have some interesting ideas swimming around here – such as the Landlord Club beginning life as a kind of patriotic, anti-western support group – but don’t develop them beyond a superficial level. Ideas like Gu’s officer being so straight he even turned his wife in is left looking a tad silly by its absence of any background.
Nevertheless, performances are fine. With rimless spectacles and blank features, Liu makes a fine white-collar baddie; and both Gu (with stubbly chops and flecks of grey hair) and Wu (with a para-military hair-do) are more than okay as the hunter and the hunted. However, it’s a shame there’s so little inter-action between the three of them. As the smilingly ruthless figure who pulls all the strings, veteran Zeng Jiang 曾江 [Kenneth Tsang] gives the second half some punch, especially in a long speech to his assembled troops that’s the acting highlight of the film.
Presented by Sil-Metropole Organisation (HK), Bona Entertainment (CN). Produced by Pop Movies (HK).
Script: Mai Zhaohui [Alan Mak], Zhuang Wenqiang [Felix Chong]. Photography: Pan Yaoming [Anthony Pun]. Editing: Peng Zhengxi [Curran Pang]. Music: Chen Guangrong [Comfort Chan]. Production design: Wen Nianzhong [Man Lim-chung]. Sound: Zeng Jingxiang [Kinson Tsang]. Action: Lin Di’an [Dion Lam]. Visual effects: Lin Hongfeng.
Cast: Gu Tianle [Louis Koo] (He Zhiqiang/Jack), Liu Qingyun [Lau Ching-wan] (Luo Minsheng/Manson), Wu Yanzu [Daniel Wu] (Sima Nianzu/Joe), Huang Yi (Guo Liping/Emily, Luo Minsheng’s wife), Ye Xuan [Michelle Ye] (He Wanqing/Xu Huan, He Zhiqiang’s wife), Zeng Jiang [Kenneth Tsang] (Huang Shitong/Tony), Hu Feng (Sima Xiang/Chauncey, Sima Nianzu’s father), Jiang Yi (Mai Shengyun/Sherwin, Landlord Club member), Luo Yingjun [Felix Lok] (Chen Zhan/Uncle Jim, Landlord Club member), Jiao Jiao (Sima Nianzu’s mother), Liu Haolong [Wilfred Lau] (Xu Hai/Hoyt, He Zhiqiang’s sidekick and brother-in-law), Guo Feng (Lin Rundong), Lin Di’an [Dion Lam] (Jin/Caine, Huang Shitong’s bodyguard), Zou Kaiguang [Matt Chow] (Ting/Tinker), Jiang Zuman (Fen/Fanny, He Zhiqiang’s female sidekick), Yuan Fuhua (Ma Zhuoqun, Landlord Club member), Fang Zhongxin [Alex Fong Chung-sun] (Simon, Landlord Club manager), Liang Yashi (Karen, TV host), Ye Jingwen (nursing-home head), He Guonan (Huang Fa/Fred), Lin Huiqian (ex-secretary of Minsheng Securities).
Release: Hong Kong, 18 Aug 2011; China, 18 Aug 2011.
(Review originally published on Film Business Asia, 21 Sep 2011.)