China/South Korea, 2016, colour, 2.35:1, 103 mins.
Director: Li Jun 李骏.
China-funded, South Korea-set terrorist thriller is always promising to be better than it ever is.
Seoul, autumn 2015. His face covered by a mask after scarring from a fire at his factory, Chinese businessman and chronic gambler/game player Guo Zhida (Zhong Hanliang) signs on for post-operative psychological treatment under Yang Xi (Lang Yueting), a Chinese psychiatrist who arrived two months ago as part of an academic exchange at Seoul National University’s Medical School. As the first round of the Asian Football Championships is about to start in South Korea, the wife (Yun Ji-uk) of a Chinese forward, Li Yue (Choi Jin-uk), is kidnapped. Meanwhile, Guo Zhida’s high-flying younger brother, Guo Zhihua (Zhong Hanliang), has returned from the US to look after him, and is himself under pressure from the gambling syndicate to which Guo Zhida owes money. Two weeks later, Guo Zhihua meets Yang Xi and says he wants to take his elder brother back with him to the US; she, however, opposes the idea. It’s the day of a second-round match between Guangzhou’s Ju Yuan Football Club and South Korea’s Shin Seong Football Club. Gang Seung-jun (Yi Jeong-jae), the NIS officer investigating the kidnapping of the Chinese footballer’s wife, raids Yang Xi’s office while Guo Zhida is in a session with her. Gang Seung-jun says Guo Zhida is suspected of being connected with the kidnapping; she offers to help if she can continue her session. By carefully questioning Guo Zhida, Yang Xi is able to give the police a lead, and they manage to rescue the player’s wife from an explosives jacket. But from a map on the wall of the flat, Gang Seung-jun suspects there are other bombs planted around the city. Guo Zhida tells Yang Xi: “You thought you won, but the game has just begun.” By provoking him, Yang Xi gets him to admit that there are bombs in Goyang Stadium, northwest Seoul, where the Ju Yuan/Shin Seong match is about to start in front of 50,000 fans. Forbidden to stop the game – as the government fears bad publicity prior to the country hosting the 2018 Winter Olympics – Gang Seung-jun and Yang Xi are forced to play along with Guo Zhida’s game. They also discover he has a bigger plan beyond that.
Though ties between China and South Korea’s film industries are still on the increase, the production traffic has generally been in a westerly direction, with Korean directors attracted by the former’s huge market. Tik Tok 惊天大逆转 is a rare example of the traffic going the other way: a Mainland-funded film that’s set and shot in South Korea, with the director, writer and two of the lead actors being the only Chinese involved in key creative roles. More’s the pity it’s such a mess – a wannabe smart thriller that’s always promising to be better than it is. It’s competently directed by Li Jun 李骏, a longtime, on-and-off TV director in his 50s, here making his big-screen debut; but the script by Ding Xiaoyang 丁小洋, a 34-year-old writer-director who’s mostly worked in comedy and horror, is pasted together from better thrillers and makes no logical sense as it careens from one generic situation to another.
Despite the key technical crew all being Korean, Tik Tok doesn’t have that glossy look and smooth feel of a South Korean production, though it’s never less than professionally assembled. In fact, it doesn’t have much national identity at all, with South Korea’s Yi Jeong-jae 이정재 | 李政宰 (the undercover cop in New World 신세계 | 新世界, 2013; the stool pigeon in Assassination 암살, 2015) looking out of place in what should be his own film, as an NIS officer hunting a crazed bomber in Seoul. With most of the deductive drama given to the film’s two Chinese actors – Hong Kong’s Zhong Hanliang 钟汉良 [Wallace Chung] in the double role of two brothers and Mainland pianist-turned-actress Lang Yueting 郎月婷 as a psychiatrist on an academic exchange – Yi, 43, largely stands there, throws anger fits, or (as he’s a Korean hero) brawls.
Yi’s character can converse with Zhong’s and Lang’s as (luckily) he has a Chinese wife from whom he’s learned a litle of the language – and who occasionally nags him on the phone about their impending divorce. But with Yi revoiced into Mandarin most of the time, and Zhong largely behind a face mask as the game-playing villain, it’s left up to the striking looking Lang to provide the dramatic filling between the two men – a job in which she gets little help from the screenplay. The only other player to make any impression is South Korean TV actress Yi Chae-yeong 이채영 | 李彩英, 30, who sneers a lot as a pugnacious NIS goon.
Tik Tok is one of those urban terrorist thrillers that, like Helios 赤道 (2015), aspires to be as clever as its villain but ends up holed by an implausible, poorly constructed screenplay with lacklustre dialogue. Zhong, 42, who was recently in the equally lame, South Korea-set thriller Bounty Hunters 赏金猎人 (2016), has no chance to lighten the mood. And the film is a disappointing vehicle for relative newcomer Lang, 31, after her fine showing in rural drama Mountain Cry 喊•山 (2015): though she handles a sizeable role decently, the script has to keep inventing reasons why a young Chinese psychiatrist should be on the front line of an anti-terrorist operation.
After several switches of location as the plot veers this way and that, things are pretty much wrapped up by the 90-minute point – at which time the film springs a Big Twist that was fairly visible half-an-hour earlier, followed by another twist halfway through the end titles. It’s somehow typical of a production that’s trying hard to impress but consistently punches above its weight.
Mainland box office was a mild RMB79 million. The South Korean co-producer, Dhuta 头陀渊, is partnering again with Beijing Hairun Pictures in a Chinese remake of the romantic drama Traces of Love 가을로 (2006).
Presented by China Film (CN), Beijing Hairun Pictures (CN). Produced by Beijing Hairun Pictures (CN), Dhuta (SK).
Script: Ding Xiaoyang. Photography: Yi Shin-je. Editing: Choi Min-yeong. Music direction: Heo Yun-weon. Art direction: Kim Ji-a. Costumes: Kim Gyeong-mi. Action: Kim Shin-ung. Sound: Yi Yin-gyu, Seong Yun-yong. Special effects: Jeon Geon-ik. Visual effects: Mun Byeong-yong.
Cast: Zhong Hanliang [Wallace Chung] (Guo Zhihua; Guo Zhida), Yi Jeong-jae (Gang Seung-jun), Lang Yueting (Yang Xi), Yi Chae-yeong (An Chae-heui), Yang Fan (Yi Ji-u), Ha Seok (Jeong Tae-hyeon), Nam Gyeong-gye (Bak, chairman), Jang Nam-yeol (Regional Investigation Unit commander), Ho San (Kim Bak-hun), Min Mu-je (Choi Il-ho), Shin Seong-weon (Jang Dong-guk), Im Hyeon-seong (Ha Dae-seong), Seo Yun-ho (Cha Yeong-tae), Im Ye-seo (Tony), Choi Jin-uk (Li Yue, Chinese footballer), Yun Ji-uk (Lei Lu, Li Yue’s wife).
Release: China, 15 Jul 2016; South Korea, tba.