With a cast that includes Sammo Hung, Yukari Oshima,
Lam Ching-Ying and Ngai Sing one might expect that there would be a large
amount of action, but for the most part this film is a character driven
story that weaves together a tense narrative and a powerful love story.
This film is in fact surprising in many small wonderful ways from the
portrayal of the characters in particular the bad guys to the path
that the story takes to the final bittersweet scene. The film explores
the common HK themes of loyalty and honor but on many different levels
and in a way that few films do. I found this to be a terrifically involving
film beautifully directed by Jacob Cheung and with two performances
(in which hardly a word is spoken) that will resonate with me for a long
Jacob Cheung (The Intimates, Cageman) takes what
could have easily been standard cops and crooks fodder and turns it into
a gem. The pacing of the film is nearly flawless and there are a number
of noirishly suspenseful scenes that reminded me of Hitchcock in his British
films. There is certainly a 39 Steps flavor to the film both stylistically
and story wise. Cheung who is considered more of an artistic director
than a commercial one brings many of these artistic elements imaginative
lighting, moody music, seamless editing to bear on this "commercial"
film and turns it into something special.
Two HK cops - Ngai Sing and his older partner
Inspector Mai come to Shenzhen to meet with the Mainland authorities
regarding the murder of one of their colleagues. Commissioner Kung Sammo
tells them that he suspects that a criminal named Lin Wei (Tsui Kam-Kong)
is the guilty party and that he is being sought after. Against orders,
Sing goes off on his own to investigate and soon circumstances come about
so that he is wrongly accused of shooting Yukari a Mainland cop. He
is able to escape though and is on the run handcuffed to the mistress of
Lin Wei Nina Li the only person who can prove that he is innocent.
Chasing after them are Lin Wei and his gang, the Mainland cops and Inspector
Mai but the two find temporary sanctuary at Ninas rural home with her
father Wu Ma.
The film changes mood and tempo here as it takes
on a lyrical nature as the two slowly develop an unspoken affection for
one another. Sing soon learns of her story from Wu Ma. She was forced into
prostitution in HK and Lin Wei pulled her out of the depths of that life
and gave her a new start. She feels overwhelmingly obligated to him and
no matter what Sing says about him, and no matter what her feelings are
for Sing she could never hurt him.
Nina Li is the heart and soul of this film. Her
performance radiates a quiet passion and complexity. Her character is deaf
and nearly mute but she is able to convey enormous emotions love, guilt,
compassion, heartbreak with hardly a word only using her eyes and body
language for the most part.
What also really makes the film interesting is
how the bad guys are portrayed. Lin Wei is a smuggler and a killer but
a professional and he is truly in love with Nina worships her and has
done everything he could to make her life better. The other performance
that I enjoyed so much is from Lam Ching-Ying. He works for Wei, but is
also responsible for looking after Nina. He too is deaf and the two of
them are connected at a level that goes beyond love and friendship he
would do anything to protect her or make her happy even betray the trust
of Wei. When he does this though it breaks his heart. He comes across as
incredibly tough and thus his feelings for Li are all the more touching.
Finally Sammo and the cops have set up a trap
for Wei with Nina as the bait. Though Wei knows it is a trap, he has
to go because her life might be in danger but he turns to his men and
says this is personal no one has to come with me. I will never hold
it against you. All of his men immediately pick up their guns and follow
him into a near certain death situation as does Lam Ching-Ying. It is
a powerful moment.
This was a compelling film and in some ways
a difficult one. The sense of humanity and complexity that Cheung gives
to all of his characters (even the minor ones) makes it almost impossible
to make judgements, to take sides. But in a story like this, someone has
to live and someone has to die and the viewer will be left a bit sad
no matter how the fates decide it.
My rating for this film: 8.0