A War Named Desire
Director Alan Mak has produced a film that at
times may feel slightly derivative and at other times may seem to be almost
trying too hard to be cool, but it is overall a terrifically stylish entry
into what could be termed the “Milkyway genre” of the past few years. In
only his third film – the other two being the underrated Nude Fear and
the very clever X-Mas Rave Fever – Mak displays both a painterly eye mixed
with seamless and modernistic film technique. His lush color schemes and
use of dramatic close ups create a number of vivid and unforgettable images.
From his films so far, Mak is clearly a director to look out for.
What the film is lacking though is the grit that
is needed to make it more involving. It is almost too smooth and colorful
– a touch of noire realism was needed to make me care more about the outcome.
The character development and the relationships feel undernourished as
they are derived almost entirely through minimalist shorthand – a gesture,
a look. The film though is constantly on the move and only covers a few
days in the lives of the characters so perhaps this was necessary.
Daniel Chan (one of HK’s current pop singing idols)
comes to Thailand looking for his long missing brother Francis Ng. Tagging
along with him is his girlfriend, Pace Wu, who clearly needs to be burped
in the worst way. Ng left HK 16 years ago with $50,000 of the family’s
money after committing murder. Chan is demanding repayment - with interest
of $1.95mm – but in reality it is his resentment over his brother leaving
and a need to face him that brings Chan to this place.
Chan finds his brother with the help of a
sleepy eyed Sam Lee in a small town in Thailand that seems to be a haven
for Chinese fugitives on the run, but he couldn’t have picked a worse time
to show up. Koreans have moved into Ng's gambling business thus forcing
some of Ng’s men to break the rules by selling drugs to make money. Behind
it is Henry, who makes a play for the leadership as he first tries to set
up Chan on a murder charge and then later kidnaps Pace. When Ng turns to
the big boss – King – to settle matters, King instead tells Ng that
he has two days to show his loyalty by killing his own brother.
Ng only seems to have his right hand man Dave
Wang and Wang’s sister, Gigi Leung, on his side while Henry seems to have
an inexhaustible supply of men to throw at Ng. Fortunately though, both
Wang and Gigi are extremely proficient professional killers and Ng isn’t
much of a slouch in the killing department either. There are a number of
well-filmed and stylish gunplay scenes that take place and there is an
assassination attempt amid a lavishly colored water festival that is stunning.
Gigi is a real standout here. She doesn’t show
up until well into the film, but it immediately picks up a shot of energy
and a burst of star power when she does. Playing against type, her quiet
and composed killer strikes a real resonance – and her feelings for Ng
are transmitted in only the smallest and subtlest of ways.
Francis Ng is as always excellent as well – forceful
but fair in his dealings – and he creates an intriguing if slightly mysterious
character. I can’t say I found the performances of the other actors all
that compelling though. Wang is solid but not spectacular while both Chan
and Pace barely registered. This hurts the film in the beginning because
at first the focus of the film is on them – but as the story shifts to
Ng and Gigi it picks up strongly and the last 30 minutes of the film is
My rating for this film: 7.5
Distributed by Mei Ah
The transfer is terrific - crisp with terrific
clean, good colors.
Cantonese and Mandarin language tracks.
English, Chinese, None are the subtitle options.
It does not have it's own trailer, but it does
for Help and Love Paradox.
The sub-titles are easy to read.