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Review: Peace Breaker (2017)

Peace Breaker

破•局

China, 2017, colour, 2.35:1, 111 mins.

Director: Lian Yiqi 连奕琦.

Rating: 5/10.

Remake of ironic South Korean crime thriller A Hard Day  is miscast and can’t get the tone right.

STORY

Kuala Lumpur, the present day. One evening, already late for his mother’s funeral rites, at which his wife (Liu Tao) and young daughter (Lu Xuantong) are waiting, Malaysian Chinese police detective Gao Jianxiang (Guo Fucheng) learns by phone that a nightclub that he and his colleagues are on the take from is being raided by the drugs squad. Tense and strung out, Gao Jianxiang swerves to avoid a dog and then appears to knock down a man who suddenly appears from the darkness. After hiding the body in his car boot, he’s stopped for a routine breathalyser check and gets into a row with the policemen when they don’t initially believe he’s a detective. Meanwhile, the drugs squad searches the offices of Gao Jianxiang’s colleagues, suspecting police corruption. When Gao Jianxiang arrives at the funeral centre, drugs squad head Zhou (Zhang Yonghua) is there and asks him to unlock a tablet computer they found in his desk. Also with Zhou is Xu Bin (Zheng Kai), a police officer from Mainland China who’s asked the Malaysian police to help with an investigation he’s been working on for six years. Gao Jianxiong attends his mother’s funeral rites and afterwards stays on at the centre, managing to hide the dead man’s body inside his mother’s coffin. Next day, at a briefing, he learns the dead man was Zhang Chen, aka Eden Zhang, a half-Chinese/half-Indian drugs supplier to Southeast Asian Hokkien businessman Jin Hongde whose affairs are being investigated by Mainland police. Gao Jianxiang and his colleagues raid a scrapyard but (obviously) don’t find Zhang Chen; behind the yard, however, Gao Jianxiang recognises the road where he knocked him down – and sees a CCTV camera that his colleagues take away. Then, at work the next day, he gets a call from a man (Wang Qianyuan) who says he saw Gao Jianxiang’s car hit Zhang Chen that night and wants to know where the body is. Despite all of Gao Jianxiang’s efforts, the man just won’t give up.

REVIEW

The lot of a Malaysian Chinese policeman goes from bad to worse in Peace Breaker 破•局, an uncomfortable mix of ironic and exaggerated comedy that isn’t helped by the miscasting of Hong Kong’s Guo Fucheng 郭富城 [Aaron Kwok] as the aforesaid cop and hatchet-faced Mainland actor Wang Qianyuan 王千源 as his dogged nemesis. Though it’s nowhere acknowledged on the credits, the film is a remake of the very fine South Korean crime thriller A Hard Day 끝까지 간다 (2014), directed by Gim Seong-hun 김성훈 | 金成勋 and starring Yi Seon-gyun 이선균 | 李善均 and Jo Jin-ung 조진웅 | 赵震雄 (see poster, left). However, where that film managed to get the balance between tension and black humour about right, this Chinese remake, financed by Mainland companies but written and directed by Taiwanese, seems forced in its humour and rarely conveys the escalating sense of a man’s life going down the toilet due to one stupid mistake. Local box office was a pale RMB65 million.

The setting, for a start, is unconvincing: a Kuala Lumpur which seems to be largely inhabited by Mandarin-speaking, ethnically Chinese cops, a few Malaysians (from police chief down to cleaners) who also speak reasonable Chinese, and where American rather than British English is used in announcements and signs. Er, right. In addition, although the remake hasn’t been moved to the Mainland, Hong Kong or Taiwan – presumably because the rampant police corruption is not 100% punished – an upright Mainland officer is shoehorned into the story, which is also pointlessly linked to an investigation back in China. It all has the unsavoury whiff of US crime films that are set south-of-the-border in Mexico because, as all Americans know, everyone is born bent down there.

That superior stance is hardly new to Chinese-language cinema, which regularly uses Southeast Asia as a generic corruption/drug-riddled location. But aside from all that, the main casting is very problematic. Guo is not a natural comedy actor, especially of the ironic kind, and as in many of his “serious” performances he tends to simply overdo it. Though the morose-looking Wang has taken some leading roles (the accordionist in The Piano in a Factory 钢的琴, 2010; the good cop in Lost in the Moonlight 夜色撩人, 2017), he’s basically a character actor known for his villains – the ambitious colleague in Brotherhood of Blades 绣春刀 (2014), amoral kidnapper in Saving Mr. Wu 解救吾先生 (2015), lay priest in The Village of No Return 健忘村 (2017) – and has no special gift for irony or comedy either. In Peace Breaker he plays the bad guy with all stops out: a s-l-o-w drawl, lots of gawky body language, and plenty of eccentric timing. However, given that Guo’s playing is not so different (apart from the slow drawl), their performances seem to be a deliberate choice by director Lian Yiqi 连奕琦, who’s determined – unlike the Korean original – to underline every irony twice and often flirt with all-out comedy. (A ridiculous end-titles sequence, revolving round the joke “Are you Chinese?”, finally throws caution to the winds.)

That’s not to say that a remake, even one as faithful as this, should feel bound by the original’s tone; but on its own terms, and without knowledge of the original, Peace Breaker just doesn’t work. It’s neither fish nor fowl, a subtle black comedy nor a laugh-out romp, and the uneven pacing only underlines the uneven mood. It’s a surprise coming from Lian, a TVD director who makes occasional films and who in his previous three features has found interesting spins on generic material (mystery-drama Make Up 命运化妆师, 2011; crime comedy Sweet Alibis 甜蜜杀机, 2014; high-school movie All about Secrets 秘果, 2017). Maybe because the screenplay – co-written by Taiwan’s Yu Shangmin 于尚民, who worked on both Make Up and Alibis – hews so closely to the original, Lian’s only solution to come up with something fresh is exaggeration: the antics in the funeral centre, the struggle in the toilet, the 10-minute knock-down-drag-out fight at the end – all are bigger, less believable and without the original’s suspense.

Other performances are unexaggerated and solid enough, with Mainlanders Yu Ailei 余皑磊 (the detective friend in Black Coal, Thin Ice 白日焰火, 2014) and Feng Jiayi 冯嘉怡 the most flavoursome as fellow bent cops. Mainland TV actress Liu Tao 刘涛 is okay in the bland role of the detective’s wife. Production values are good, by many of the same team behind another recent Mainland-funded crime drama written and directed by Taiwanese, Edge of Innocence 夏天十九岁的肖像 (2017): UK d.p. Steve Lawes, Thai composer Terdsak Janpan and experienced Hong Kong editor Li Dongquan 李栋全 [Wenders Li]. Shooting took place in Malaysia and Taiwan.

The Chinese title means “Broken, Bureau”, which at least makes more sense than the English one.

CREDITS

Presented by C2M Pictures (Shanghai) (CN), JQ Pictures (CN), Shanghai Bona Cultural Media (CN), Tianjin Jet Cloud Pictures Media (CN). Produced by Jet Cloud Pictures (CN).

Script: Lin Yuzhen, Yu Shangmin. Original script: Gim Seong-hun, Shin Hyeon-jin, Jang Gang-jun, Yi Hae-jun, Gwak Jeong-deok, Choi Gwan-yeong. Photography: Steve Lawes. Editing: Li Dongquan [Wenders Li]. Music: Terdsak Janpan. Art direction: Wu Ruoyun. Costume design: Wu Lilu [Dora Ng]. Styling: Lin Yuyun. Sound: Tang Xiangzhu, Traithep Wongpaiboon. Special effects: Wei Zongshe. Visual effects: Wang Xiaowei (Chang Kong Yi Hua).

Cast: Guo Fucheng [Aaron Kwok] (Gao Jianxiang), Wang Qianyuan (Chen Changmin), Liu Tao (Lin Xiaoye, Gao Jianxiang’s wife), Yu Ailei (Liu Hao, police detective), Feng Jiayi (Guo, police captain), Zheng Kai (Xu Bin, Mainland police officer), Zhang Shaohuai (Li Dongshun), Hao Xuankai (Song), Wu Zhongtian [Matt Wu] (traffic policeman), Lu Xuantong (Gao Weiwei, Gao Jianxiang’s daughter), Zhang Yonghua (Zhou, police captain), Ali Arami (Wu Yingxiong), Sathis Rao (Gaotou), Xu Liangyu (Li, police detective), Wei Youlan (Gao Jianxiang’s dead mother), Liang Zhengkang (funeral master), Cai Weixiang (senior policeman).

Release: China, 17 Aug 2017.