China, 2015, colour, 2.35:1, 101 mins.
Director: Lin Lingdong 林岭东 [Ringo Lam].
A just-okay return to film-making, after 12 years, by the once iconic Lin Lingdong [Ringo Lam].
Hong Kong, the present day. One night, bar owner Guo Tianmin (Gu Tianle), a former police detective who resigned in disgrace, drives a heavily inebriated customer, Tang Yun (Tong Liya), back to the home of his step-mother Hua (Yuan Qiu) so she can sleep it off. Guo Tianmin’s younger step-brother, petty criminal-turned-taxi driver Guo Shaocong (Yu Wenle), lives at the house and takes a liking to Tang Yun, who’s from Qingdao, northern China. Next night, when collecting her car with Guo Shaocong’s help, Tang Yun is kidnapped by some Taiwan gangsters led by Lao Ge (Gao Jie). Guo Shaocong gives chase in his car and calls Guo Tianmin for help. They save Tang Yun but she disappears in the chaos. Punk gangster Ren (Li Canchen) comes to Guo Tianmin’s bar and gives him 24 hours to produce Tang Yun. Meanwhile, she calls Guo Shaocong and asks him to bring her vehicle to the car park of a hotel she’s hiding out in. As she takes out a case full of cash and gold from the boot, the Taiwan gang appears and the three run for it. Lao Ge is fatally wounded in the chase, and Tang Yun manages to escape with Guo Tianmin and Guo Shaocong in a speedboat. She explains the money belongs to a gangster, Liang Hao (Ma Yuke), who was being bribed by her ex-boyfriend, Jiang Zuozhi (Xie Tianhua), a lawyer involved with the underworld. As part of the deal, Jiang Zuozhi threw in Tang Yun as a sweetener, but she escaped with the case of money. Guo Shaocong is in favour of dividing the loot up between them, and leaves in a huff when Guo Tianmin opposes the idea. Meanwhile, Lao Ge’s psychotic gang partner, Blackie (Zhang Xiaoquan), swears revenge on the three and, to flush them out, kidnaps Hua. Also looking for the two brothers are the police, led by Guo Tianmin’s previous boss, Wang (Ren Dahua).
The first feature in 12 years by writer-director Lin Lingdong 林岭东 [Ringo Lam] – and the first feature fully set in his native Hong Kong for even longer, since the ghostly thriller Victim 目露凶光 (1999) – Wild City 迷城 marks a just-okay return by one of the territory’s most iconic film-makers of the 1980s and 1990s that unfortunately ends up recalling much better action-dramas from his heyday. Described by Lin as the final leg of a loose trilogy that includes City on Fire 龙虎风云 (1987) and Full Alert 高度戒备 (1997) – films centred on characters “lost” in Hong Kong – it’s neither up to the level of either of its forebears nor especially remarkable in its own right.
Though there’s plenty of action – a car chase here, a foot chase/fight/shootout there – there are no setpieces to equal, say, the nail-biting car pursuit in Full Alert, Lin’s last great movie, nor any sense of tension and ever-present danger. Unlike the high-concept films of his colleague Du Qifeng 杜琪峰 [Johnnie To], Lin’s have always been rooted in more realistic psychology and a grittier street feel – both of which Wild City, despite its English title, never really achieves.
The Chinese title roughly means “Confusing City” – which could also apply to the stop-start script. Lacking any thoroughgoing momentum, it centres on two step-brothers, one a former cop, the other a former petty criminal, who end up being pursued by various villains after helping a drunken young Mainland woman one night. She, it turns out, has a case stuffed with cash and gold stolen from the Mob, as well as knowing a bit too much about the dealings of them and her ex-boyfriend, a bent lawyer. The film looks like being a one-thing-leads-to-another moto perpetuo, as the step-brothers find themselves drawn deeper and deeper into a well of darkness. Instead, it keeps pausing for scenes of character development that are blandly written and, apart from Hong Kong’s Yu Wenle 余文乐 [Shawn Yue], played with little freshness. Lin, 60, used to be known for the greater depth of his characters compared with those in many Hong Kong crime dramas; but here he seems to be punching the clock as a writer.
The film does look great in the widescreen photography by Australia-born Ross W. Clarkson (Lin’s The Suspect 极度重犯, 1998; Victim; Looking for Mister Perfect 奇逢敌手, 2003), with some memorable urban nightscapes; but there’s rarely any street feel to give the action and drama some extra oomph. Editing by Du regular David Richardson is as sharp as ever; music by Canada’s Dave Klotz, also a regular with the Du/Milkyway Image team, adds little.
Yu, often stuck in dull roles, is enjoyably relaxed and occasionally combustible here as the younger step-brother, and has as much chemistry as possible with the glassy-eyed Gu Tianle 古天乐 [Louis Koo] as his ex-cop elder. Only in one scene, where he beats the bejeezus out of a punk gangster in a toilet does Gu make a virtue of his stony look; otherwise, his character hardly registers inbetween spouting cliched remarks about money being the source of all evil.
As the woman in the middle, Mainland actress Tong Liya 佟丽娅 (the landlady in Detective Chinatown 唐人街探案, 2015) makes little impression amid a forest of Hong Kong character actors: Ren Dahua 任达华 [Simon Yam] pops up here and there as a police boss, Li Canchen 李璨琛 [Sam Lee] as a sneering punk gangster, Yuan Qiu 元秋 as the step-brothers’ mother, and so on. Only Taiwan’s Zhang Xiaoquan 张孝全 [Joseph Chang] cuts an intriguing figure as a psychopathic thug, giving the finale some power but not given much of a chance to develop a role of true villainy.
The Chinese title on Mainland posters, but not on the actual film, is 谜城 (“Mystery City”), presumably to distinguish it in the advertising from Mainland drama Distant Thunder 迷城 (2010), directed by Zhang Jiarui 章家瑞 and starring Huo Siyan 霍思燕 and Guo Xiaoran 郭晓然. In China the film grossed a respectable but unremarkable RMB149 million.
Presented by Beijing East Light Films (CN).
Script: Lin Lingdong [Ringo Lam]. Photography: Ross W. Clarkson. Editing: David Richardson. Music: Dave Klotz. Art direction: Cai Huiyan, Li Guolin. Costume design: Zhang Zhaokang. Sound: Liu Jianming, Nopawat Likitwong. Action: Huang Weihai. Car stunts: Huo Yongfu, Chen Weiqiang. Visual effects: Luo Weihao (Different Digital Design). Executive direction: Qian Wenqi [Chin Man-kei].
Cast: Gu Tianle [Louis Koo] (Guo Tianmin/T-Man), Yu Wenle [Shawn Yue] (Guo Shaocong), Tong Liya (Tang Yun), Zhang Xiaoquan [Joseph Chang] (Heitou/Blackie), Xie Tianhua (Jiang Zuozhi/George), Yuan Qiu (Hua/Mona, Guo Tianmin’s stepmother), Li Canchen [Sam Lee] (Ren, gang leader), Wu Yunlong [Philip Ng] (Guan, senior detective), Jiang Haowen [Philip Keung] (Quan), Lin Zishan (Mazai Ji), Ren Dahua [Simon Yam] (Wang, police inspector), Gao Jie [Jack Kao] (Lao Ge, Taiwan gang leader/King), Ma Yuke (Liang Hao), Tan Bingwen (big boss), Jiang Zuman (Bao), Xu Weidong (Gui), Che Jianhui (Guo Tianmin’s father), Liang Zihao (young Guo Tianmin), Zheng Younan (young Guo Shaocong), Li Huiling (Jiang Zuozhi’s girlfriend).
Premiere: Taipei Film Festival (Gala Premieres), 10 Jul 2015.
Release: China, 30 Jul 2015.