China, 2010, colour, 1.85:1, 84 mins.
Director: Feng Chao 冯超.
Spotty attempt at a genre thriller with international reach.
A small artificial island moored in international waters off the coast of Java, Indonesia, the present day. After receiving news in a Kuala Lumpur hospital that his son Jack has died in a helicopter crash in a Southeast Asian jungle, Chinese Indonesian billionaire Long (Liu Hua), aka Georges Hobeika, has seven Asians with his son’s rare blood type kidnapped and brought to his island home: from Beijing, an indebted clubber, known as Miss Counterfeit (Huo Siyan); from Hong Kong, a professional mistress, Bubble Tea (Yu Miao); from Taibei, a second-rate gangster, Lei Long (Rong Xiang); from northeast China, a second-rate comedy performer, Xiao Mohe (Xiao Shen Long); from Tokyo, a sumo wrestler; from Shanghai, a teenage student (Cheng Yi) who’s obsessed with detective manga; and from Mumbai, an Indian yoga instructor. Aided by his longtime butler Xue (Lin Xue), Long plans to set them all challenges to discover which is the best, and then transfer his son’s heart into the winner’s body so the Long family will still have an heir. He has only a few hours before the artificially preserved heart stops beating. Meanwhile, a professional assassin (Shi Tianlong) has also arrived on the island, under orders to kill four of the captives.
Beneath the loony central idea of The Island 绝命岛 – mad Southeast Asian Chinese billionaire kidnaps seven Asians to find the best in which to transplant his dead son’s still-beating heart – lies an ambitious attempt to make a Mainland genre movie with international reach. The problem is that the script hardly develops the various characters involved (as well as getting rid of the two non-Chinese ones early on), and the scatter-gun direction by commercial journeyman Feng Chao 冯超 constantly swings between the promising and the lame, with comic elements (such as an inept assassin from Bangkok) thrown into the mix as well. It’s difficult by the end to decide whether the whole film – actually shot in Shenzhen – is to be taken as a send-up (in which case, it’s not consistently funny enough) or as a thriller with comic relief (in which case, it’s not thrilling enough).
Production values also swing this way and that, with some inventive set design for the captives’ first tests (a room full of hanging axes, another with leaking oil and a lit candle, a third with a key puzzle to solve) but no real idea how to use them to create suspense or visual thrills. Bursts of flashy editing become annoying, and several later twists are no more than OK. As the billionaire and his lackey, Liu Hua 刘桦 and Hong Kong’s Lin Xue 林雪 [Lam Suet] coast along; among the rest, Taiwan’s Rong Xiang 戎祥 has some fun as a corpulent petty gangster, actress Huo Siyan 霍思燕 (My Name Is Fame 我要成名, 2006) as the most developed role as a Beijing clubber, and newcomer Cheng Yi 程伊, 19, is notable as a teenage student with a devil-may-care attitude to her captivity. But overall, this is a lost opportunity.
Presented by Longteng Yidu Pictures Investment (CN). Produced by Longteng Yidu Pictures Investment (CN).
Script: Feng Chao, Teng Yu, Lu Zhen. Photography: Lu Sheng. Editing: Liu Lei. Music: Fu Dongxue. Art direction: Zhao Xiaolong. Sound: Liang Dan, Yu Qiang. Action: Shi Tianlong. Visual effects: Gao Nan, Hong Hui.
Cast: Liu Hua (Long/Georges Hobeika), Huo Siyan (Shanzhai Mei/Miss Counterfeit), Lin Xue [Lam Suet] (Xue), Cheng Yi (Shanghai student), Rong Xiang (Lei Long, Taiwan gangster), Shi Tianlong (Bangkok’s No. 1 Assassin), Xiao Shen Long (Xiao Mohe, performer), Yu Miao (Bubble Tea, mistress), Chen Feiyu (Long’s female bodyguard), Wu Zhixiong (Taiwan triad leader), Peng Bo (Long’s son), Wu Xian, Nai Wen.
Release: China, 12 Oct 2010.
(Review originally published on Film Business Asia, 25 Nov 2010.)