Black & White Episode 1: The Dawn of Assault
Taiwan/China, 2012, colour, 2.35:1, 153 mins.
Director: Cai Yuexun 蔡岳勋.
Taiwan’s first action blockbuster is a fiasco, redeemed only by Mainland comic Huang Bo.
Harbour City, somewhere in Asia. Southern Precinct Homicide Division detective Wu Yingxiong (Zhao Youting) catches a gang of security-van robbers and makes headlines with his flashy, maverick methods. As a result, he is sent for anger-management counselling and temporarily taken off any cases. Meanwhile, Xu Dafu (Huang Bo), a member of Sanlian triad who’s looking to retire, decides to make some extra cash for himself while his boss is away in Vietnam for five days. After borrowing US$1 million from Sanlian colleague Yuan (Gao Jie), he plans to cut a deal on some illegal diamonds, sell them immediately for US$1 million profit, and quietly return the original capital to Sanlian untouched. Unfortunately, a paramilitary SIS squad arrives at the handover of the diamonds to Xu Dafu, and in the shootout both the case with the diamonds and the one with Xu Dafu’s US$1 million go missing. Wu Yingxiong, who is following events against his boss’ orders, arrests Xu Dafu and the two go in search of the missing items. Also on their tail is Ou Wensi (Du Dewei), an SIS captain who wants both Wu Yingxiong and the case with the diamonds. Staying one step ahead of Ou Wensi thanks to help from Wu Yingxiong’s colleague Midori at the precinct, Wu Yingxiong and Xu Dafu follow a trail that leads from Fan Ning (Yang Ying) to Xu Dafu’s girlfriend Du Xiaoqing (Guan Ying) to mysterious broker Jabar (Dai Liren). En route they discover the secret concealed by the diamonds and a complicated conspiracy involving the Pandawa terrorist organisation, Harbour City’s organised crime and top government officials.
A big-screen prequel to the popular 2009 Taiwan TV drama, Black & White Episode 1: The Dawn of Assault 痞子英雄首部曲 全面开战 represents an embarrassing failure by the island’s movie industry to re-enter the big-budget action-thriller league after the failure of Double Vision 双瞳 (2002). Zhao Youting 赵又廷 [Mark Chao], reprising his role as maverick cop Wu Yingxiong, aka Hero Wu, is the only member of the original TV cast to make the transition, making this effectively a standalone film that requires no knowledge of the 24-part TV series (which teamed Zhao with F4 boybander Zhou Yumin 周渝民 [Vic Chou]). In theory, that’s all fine, especially as Zhao has developed as an actor in the intervening years (Monga 艋舺, 2010; First Time 第一次, 2012). Unfortunately, the series’ original director Cai Yuexun 蔡岳勋 and his screenwriter Chen Huiru 陈慧如 also made the transition rather than yielding the project to experienced movie-makers. The result is a big-budget, two-and-a-half-hour fiasco of shapelesss direction and amateurish scriptwriting, redeemed only by the presence of Mainland comic Huang Bo 黄渤 as Hero’s new, offbeat “partner”.
Set in an unnamed country and in the fictional Harbour City – which bears an amazing resemblance to Taiwan’s second city, Gaoxiong – Black & White has a plot that starts as a “simple” diamond trade but mushrooms into one involving police and government corruption, international terrorists, computer files, and an anti-matter bomb. Basically, the script by Chen and Cai is one long chase-cum-offbeat buddy movie in which the characters stop every quarter of an hour or so to explain the plot to each other (and the audience).
This would be excusable if the bits between had (a) some chemistry between Zhao and Huang, and (b) some well-staged, decently shot or moderately suspenseful action. Unfortunately, they have none of the above: Zhao, who’s never seemed so wooden, and Huang, who’s never been so skittish, seem to be acting in separate movies. When Huang is on screen, the movie is bearable, as he appears to be sending it up; when he’s not, it starts sinking rapidly. Even the photography by ace Taiwan d.p. Li Pingbin 李屏宾 [Mark Lee] is lacklustre, with lighting that manages the considerable task of making Mainland model-turned-actress Yang Ying 杨颖 [Angelababy] look drab and with colour that seems garish for no good reason.
Supporting performances by the Taiwan cast are routine, led by actor-director Dai Liren 戴立忍 [Leon Dai] as a mysterious smoothie; Guan Ying 关颖 [Terri Kwan] looking elegant but being spurious to the plot; Yang in a misconceived role that’s half-computer nerd, half-action figure; and Macau-born, Italian-Karen twins Dino and Julio Acconci (of rock group Soler) as a pair of crazed killers. The rest of the cast is dotted with Taiwan names and entertainment celebrities, such as Lin Weiheng 林暐恒 as a psycho with a very nasty knife.
After the film has been running some 70 minutes, Yang’s character explains the whole plot to that point, which is extremely useful. By then it seems the ending is in sight; in fact, the movie is still only half over, with more shootouts, big explosions and a finale in a hijacked Boeing 747 that alone lasts a full half-hour. Despite all the special and visual effects (reasonably handled, in a cartoonish way), the film simply gets worse and worse, as if the production team simply threw their hands up in the air and went for broke.
In his first feature, TV drama director Cai is simply out of his depth, and attached to a script that seems to have been cut and pasted. Much of the reportedly US$11 million budget is to be seen on screen, though not necessarily made the best of by the direction. Plot points are still being resolved during the end titles, where scenes that appear to have been squeezed out in the editing (by the original TV series’ Zhou Hongyi 周宏宜) run alongside the cast/crew list.
The Chinese title means “Punk Hero(es): All-Out War”. The version released in China is shorter by 11 minutes, which still offers little relief.
Presented by China Film (CN), Beijing Hualu Baina Film & TV (CN), Hero Pictures (TW). Produced by Hero Film (TW), Prajna Works Entertainment (TW).
Script: Chen Huiru, Cai Yuexun. Photography: Li Pingbin [Mark Lee]. Editing: Zhou Hongyi. Music: Terdsak Janpan. Production design: Huang Meiqing. Costume design: Sun Huimei. Sound: Zheng Xuzhi [Frank Cheng]. Action: Cyril Raffaelli, Li Zhongzhi. Visual effects: Zhong Zhihang (Part 3 Digital Art Design [Shanghai]).
Cast: Zhao Youting [Mark Chao] (Wu Yingxiong/Hero Wu), Huang Bo (Xu Dafu), Yang Ying [Angelababy] (Fan Ning), Guan Ying [Terri Kwan] (Du Xiaoqing), Dai Liren [Leon Dai] (Jabar), Du Dewei (Ou Wensi, SIS captain), Lin Weiheng (Tong, weird killer), Dino Acconci, Julio Acconci (killers), Fujioka Tatsuo (Li Zhiyong), Na Dou [Lin Yuzhi] (Da Bao), Xu Shihao (Er Bao), Tang Zhiwei (Chen Junlin), Tang Zhen (Tang Zhen), Gan Demen (Li), Qiu Longjie (Shaoxiao), Tao Chuanzheng (defence minister), Li Guangfu (He Yingquan), Zou Cheng’en (Cheng Nuo), Wu Zhongqiang (Haoke/Hulk), Hong Chenying (Ai Lv), Zhu Degang (Tang Jingheng), Lin Muheng (Piao Lei), Wu Zhongtian [Matt Wu] (Sanlian Western Division head, Du Xiaoqing’s lover), Gou Feng (Yi Gongping), Gao Jie [Jack Kao] (Yuan), Xia Jingting (Xin), Liu Erjin (psychiatrist).
Release: Taiwan, 13 Jan 2012; China, 21 Jun 2012.
(Review originally published on Film Business Asia, 27 Jun 2012.)