Comeuppance



Reviewed by YTSL

For some people, the key defining characteristics of Hong Kong movies are an "over the top" bombastic feel and a frenetic pace.  These are traits that most definitely are not evident in that which appears to be the least heralded of Milkyway Image Production's year 2000 output.  As such, those looking for an adrenaline rush of a film viewing experience are advised to look elsewhere than this Derek Chiu directed -- and Johnnie To produced -- work whose three main characters act more like zeroes than heroes.  Still, others -- especially those who can appreciate an all-round well-made effort -- would do well to check out this quiet but quite intriguing offering, which starts off in a not particularly gripping manner but really did gather steam and hold my interest the further along I got into it.

Patrick Tam and Jordan Chan
COMEUPPANCE's story revolves around a series of fatal poisonings -- in varied settings (including a bar, restaurant and sauna) and from a variety of toxins (most of which is swallowed but one of which is air-borne) -- of Triad bigwigs and their minions by a single individual whose identity the police and gangsters, not to mention journalists and the public, seek to know but have difficulty determining.  Right from the start though, viewers of this clever film know who is "Heaven's Assassin" (the Chinese title of this quality offering).  It thus should be clear that this is not a suspenseful whodunit.  Nonetheless, it is an imaginative movie which requires its viewers to pay attention to many little details in order for them to really understand and appreciate what is going on as well as how matters, lives and deaths do intersect and connect.
Sunny Chan and Crystal Lui
Patrick Tam convincingly portrays the nondescript appearing man named Sung Ping who takes it upon himself to slowly but surely rid Hong Kong of some not very nice and/or dangerous figures.  His screen time is shared in about equal measures with two other low-key acting Everyman types.  As hard as it might be for those who know him best as the extroverted "Young and Dangerous" Chicken to imagine, Jordan Chan does give an admirably restrained performance in COMEUPPANCE as Hak:  The journalist who starts off covering an actual crime but then gets paid to write a fictitious serial on "The Kings of the Underworld" -- which regularly has the characters he has named and modeled after real life individuals dying from poisons -- whose tales start coming true.  Similarly, HK film fans who are most familiar with Sunny Chan by way of "Cheap Killers" and/or "Hold You Tight" will surely be surprised to see how good -- and charismatic -- he is as the quietly competent detective named Michael whose in charge of investigating the linked murder cases.
Over the course of COMEUPPANCE, the paths of this trio cross, criss-cross and come together.  Two other persons who at least a couple of these men interact with -- and captured the interest of this (re)viewer -- are:  The Mandarin-speaking Speck, a gang leader who likes to cook, loves abalone and once was a writer (Wu Hsing Kuo plays him as an increasingly idiosyncratic -- to say the least... -- individual); and Lucy, a woman who becomes Michael's girlfriend, an avid reader of Hak's columns and -- via those writings -- one of the public who is more interested than she might otherwise be in the real world as well as fictitious killings of underworld bosses (Crystal Lui is another of this film's cast who endows her character with an "everyday" yet far from dull-to-watch personality).
Patrick Tam amd Wu Hsing Kuo
In addition to those already mentioned, credit is also definitely due to COMEUPPANCE's creative scriptwriter (Benny Li) and cinematographer (Tony Cheung) for making it be as well as look a cut above many of the films produced in the HKSAR.  For all of its obvious positives though, I have to admit that this is not an offering that I entirely warmed to.  The primary reason for this being so is that this dramatic work just does not seem dramatic enough to make me care all that much about the focused events and the characters involved in them.  Perhaps the lesson to be learnt from this is that certain stylistically understated productions run the risk of their audience feeling emotionally detached from highlighted proceedings and consequently not feeling sufficiently satisfied even when they get provided with unexpected yet logical outcomes that ought to be to their liking.

My rating for this film:  7.5


DVD Information:

Distributed by Mei Ah

The transfer is fine - sharp, good colors, clean.

Letterboxed

Cantonese and Mandarin language tracks - Dolby surround sound

9 Chapters

The subtitles are Chinese or English or none.

There is no trailer for this film - or any other extras.