Tag Archives: Chung Chi Li

Cinema-Maniac: The Brink (2017)

Jin Zhang, or Max Zhang as he’s sometime is credited shares career similarities with director Jonathan Li. Both of these men before The Brink have worked their way up in the Hong Kong film industry. Jonathan Li starting out behind the camera as a third assistant director on Infernal Affairs 3 (2003), and Max Zhang starting out as a stunt double in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). Over a decade later of work both managed to garner some level of recognition. Max Zhang is easily more prolific with supporting roles in The Grandmaster (2013), Ip Man 3 (2015), and SPL 2: A Time for Consequences (2015). Garnering Max Zhang a well earned fanbase for not just his incredible athleticism in his fight sequences, but his on screen presence displaying good acting abilities. Surprisingly, The Brink doesn’t just mark Max Zhang first time headlining a major movie as the lead star, and also marks the first time Jonathan Li take the helm as a director after over a decade working mostly as a assistant director. Both have something to prove in this film that is steps away from greatness, but accomplish the feat of proving they can handle bigger roles.

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A snippet of Max Zhang impressive skills in his fight sequences

On the story front The Brink is above average. Telling the classic story of a reckless Hong Kong officer, in this case being Sai Gau (Max Zhang), attempting to put an end on a criminal gold smuggling scheme. Anyone with experience in Hong Kong cinema will know what to expect from the story, minus the goods this time not being drugs. Some of the characters are also what you would expect them to be; best friend Zhi-Di (Wu Yue) so close to retiring getting pulled back into action, the chief coming down Sai Gau neck for operations gone wrong, a low ranked criminal villain in Jiang (Shawn Yue) with big ambitions, the daughter of a criminal reminding Sai Gau of his sense of duty, Jiang boss who plans to give his business to his son seeks to get rid of him, and that basically covers it. There are other minor characters, but they don’t contribute much in the grand scheme of things. It’s lacking in creativity, but when it comes execution writer Li Chun Fai knows how to play around with these familiar characters, and plot point in a successful way.

For starter, the pacing of the film is just right never lingering too much on unnecessary details, and evolving the main storyline in a organic way. Being able to escalate stakes within a reasonable scope. It has a certain number of main characters, and knows their influence with those around them. Hardly going overboard in favors of anyone to show more, or less an even playing field. Another positive in the writing is the whole cat, and mouse writing it takes for it central conflict. Both Sai Gau, and Jiang come face to face several times throughout the  movie. With Jiang just barely being able to get the advantage over Sai Gau in his attempts to arrest him. Further adding to the intrigue is Jiang seeking vengeance on those who betrayed him making proceeding events for him more difficult to come out on top. Seeing the many ways Jiang gets out of his situations is quite fun to witness.

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Prison changed me man. I’m a blonde now. Don’t ask.

Other area of the writing comes with mixed results. Characters are simplistic, and clear cut in their motivations. In its effort to be more than a good cop capturing evil doer it leaves many aspects half baked. The most prominent one being a insignificant plot point on Zhi-Di owing an off screen gang money. This clumsily justifies Zhi-Di motives in the later half of the movie, but with it being the only mention it just goes nowhere. While the writing attempts to make things different shades of grey it ultimately just boils down to good guy versus bad guy. Characters are defined, but they switch motivation, or personality at a moment notice to serve the writers needs since Li Chun Fai couldn’t figure out how its character would get from point a to point b with how they were established. If Li Chun Fai didn’t rewrite established characters consistently he would have been able to create more complex characters in favor of the film.

Where the writing falter plenty is with the character of Ke-Yan (Cecilia So) whose name I don’t believe is actually ever said in the movie itself. The only way I was able to find out her name was looking for it in the closing credits. If that alone doesn’t get across how this character is just put into the movie for no narrative reason than maybe the fact she contributes nothing in the overarching story will. Her scenes amount to nothing, but just providing a little characterization for Sai Gau, and even less for Ke-Yan. Her subplot of being a daughter tied to a criminal Sai Gau accidentally killed isn’t explored. It’s brushed aside quickly, and feels like Ke-Yan is only here to provide a pro-life message that is shoehorned in. If Ke-Yan was going to be in the last shot of the movie than you know, doing something significant storywise with her would have made it more impactful. Lastly, why does Sai Gau go into prison for a couple a months with dark hair, but then when released has blonde hair. Not that it’s of any importance, but it’s a noticeable change that comes out of nowhere.

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Shawn Yue (left) has the look of a trustworthy person.

Max Zhang for the first time in his career carries the mantle of a leading man, and he does quite well for himself. He doesn’t attempt to oversell his character through his acting, but rather tries to keep his portrayal restraint when not fighting. Providing more subtle delivery in some of his sentimental scenes preventing them from being sappy. There are glimmer of range within him that the film sadly doesn’t utilize more frequently. Of course, when it comes to Max Zhang in the fight sequences he’s still just as impressive, and quick as he ever been.

Opposite of Max Zhang is Shawn Yue playing the cold hearted villain. Nailing the portrayal of his character personality, but unable to overcome the occasional stoic delivery of dialogue. Sounding disinterested half the time, and the other half sounding detached like he should. Yue acting won’t impress, but one where he’s meant to mourn over a lost is handle well by Yue without him breaking character. Wu Yue whenever on screen typically takes the spotlight from Zhang. Giving life to a archetype character being capable to generate sympathy for his character in spite of the above average writing. When it comes to his fight sequences he’s just as impressive as Max Zhang. There’s some noteworthy name in the supporting cast like Janice Man, Derek Tsang, Gordon Lam, and Tai Po, but the supporting cast tends to be one note. Eventually being indistinguishable from one another performances.

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My favorite fight in The Brink.

First time director Jonathan Li with the helps of cinematographer Kenny Tse captures a aquatic, moody feel to the film. Showing a more grimy side of Hong Kong through his usage of location. If it’s related to the ocean he’ll use from a crowded indoor fish market, to a fishing trawler in the middle of a storm, gloomy ports, and even going underwater to film a action sequence which in spite of being performed slowly is still entertaining to witness. His directing of action sequences stands out more than his narrative storytelling. Mostly because when it comes to action he allows for long takes, and if needed will get inventive with his shots to make his fight scenes pop out. Being able to avoid the pitfall of showing background actors doing nothing in his fight sequences. With tight editing, and great composition his eye for action sequences raises the film quality whenever onscreen. Heck, he’s able to make an action sequence underwater feel eventful. There might be only a handful of them spread throughout, but they are worth waiting for. His music choices are mixed. Some of it works like during the action sequences to add excitement, but sometime it comes off overblown like towards the end of the movie using choir like music.

Action choreography is handle by Chung Chi Li, and much like his action choreography in Extraordinary Mission (2017), Li goes for a more grounded approach. Having very limited usage of wires, most of which are sprinkle in the climax. Chi Li emphasizes Max Zhang speed in the only one versus many brawl that has Max Zhang fighting in a alley. Alongside Wu Yue who also participate in the one versus many brawl on his own, Max Zhang is able to make it look convincing he’s able to beat up a dozen men rapid swings of his flashlights. However, my personal favorite fight in a parking lot with Max Zhang going one on one with a masked assailant. Creatively using the parked cars environment to have its actors use to avoid hits from the other fighter. Both men are able to keep up with each other performing their moves quickly resulting in some impressive long takes in the fight. Lastly, the climax which involve Max Zhang fighting against Wu Yue, and Shawn Yue on a fishing ship during a storm is the centerpiece action sequence. It’s an exciting climatic fight with plenty happening in the background as it shakes throwing all participants off. The choreography here in particular takes into account the rocking ship putting the advantage of the fight to whoever it wants. It’s quite a sight to witness, and what’s also vastly enjoyable to witness is how epicly presented the final punch between Max Zhang, and Wu Yue is filmed.

The Brink doesn’t break any grounds in any area of filmmaking, but is overall a success thanks to it crew overcoming several weaknesses. In particular, the wonderfully done action sequences elevating above everything else to be the one area it shines the best. Jonathan Li proves he can handle his own in the forefront as a director thanks largely to his strong direction which is felt throughout the movie. Of course, Max Zhang himself continues to prove why his raise to fame isn’t a fluke. Being just capable in his acting as he is in his fight scenes will eventually garner him more leading roles in his career. Regardless of your familiarity with anyone in the film, or Hong Kong action cinema The Brink is a good way to spend your time.

Rating 7/10

Cinema-Maniac: Extraordinary Mission (2017) Action Crime Movie Review

Extraordinary Mission follows undercover police officer Lin Kain (played by Xuan Huang) who attempts to take down a drug trafficking syndicate from the inside. The first half of Extraordinary Mission is standard undercover cop happenings; main character is in too deep in his current assignment, deal goes wrong escalating the undercover job, rising up the ranking earning the big boss trust, collusion in the police force, and other familiar territory. It’s these familiar traits while well executed thanks to pacing do make the viewer wonder for an hour if it’ll lead anywhere rewarding. Another drawback is the main character Lin Kain isn’t as compelling compare to the supporting characters. Lin Kain is simply the hero of the film with the position of an outsider put into a situation with characters whom all have a history with each other. Supporting characters are fleshed out, have clear motivations, and a rounded arc that is completed by the end of the film. These developments come in slowly, though do pay up in favor of the narrative. For example, the film’s main villain, Eagle (played by Yihong Duan), is surprisingly given more depth to him than initially introduced. Not only that, but his backstory makes him somewhat sympathetic in the story. Somewhat because you know he’s still in the drug selling business.

Lin Kain, as implied earlier, is the protagonist who has the least going for him out of the major characters. His backstory, and reason for becoming a cop is looked into, but not a whole lot to make him a fleshed out character. One flashback with just one tragic event doesn’t do enough to convey Lin Kain much as a character. He simply comes across as a nearly flawless hero with a strong sense of duty. An attempt to give him a flaw is made by making him addicted to drugs. However, it’s a plot thread is simply mentioned in passing in dialogue after a certain point. Seeing Lin attempting to overcome drug addiction is something that helps the viewer bridge a stronger connection with him, but it’s simply making something come across more significant than it actually is in practice.

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Still from a good scene introducing to the film’s villain in the movie.

Regardless how good the film turned out in the end both fans of crime films, and action cinema will find the flick overall polarizing in its narrative. An action junkie will find it to have too little action spread out through the film with a lead whose underdeveloped, and crime film fans would find it familiarity meandering to sit through. What the script writing does accomplish with ease is blending action cinema, and crime drama into a singular vision. The sillier aspect of the action side of Extraordinary Mission, like a seemingly unkillable villain who can take multiple gunshots does not contrast strongly against the crime drama vision. Expertly using crime drama familiarity to as an excuse to eventually provide good characterization, and using action cinema setups to provided the entertaining set pieces. In tangent of that, it operates on action cinema logic hence no mention of the passage of time in the film, and the resiliency of the heroes bodies despite what they endure during the climax. While also using the crime drama aspects of it writing to keep the story moving forward at a good pace. In spite of its major writing issues, Extraordinary Mission is clearly written by a person who knows how to work well in different genres, and know how to best combine them to their strength.

Xuan Huang takes on the leading role of Lin Kain delivering a very good performance despite some of his characters limitation. Huang excels in humanizing Lin Kain more than the script does playing off the cool, and collected side of Kain with ease. Another positive is Huang has a plenty of range as an actor so not only is he convincing while performing his action sequences, but is versatile in portraying Lin Kain more vulnerable side convincingly. Huang does such a good job as a leading man it makes it that much easier accept the same character you see struggling not to take drug is also the same character easily killing dozen of henchman in the climax.

The standout performance of the film is Yihong Duan as the film’s villain Eagle. Much like Xuan Huang, Duan delivers a good performance making a great flick duo on screen. He’s on par with Huang in the acting department; however, is able to crafts a carefully balanced character. Never going into the melodramatic Duan provides the sympathy his character demands. His mannerism differs greatly from the rest of his co-star typically speaking in a calmly, collected gesture regardless of context. Another appreciated aspect of Duan performance is never entering into the over the top. Much like Huang who would have been for to solely play a tough hero, Duan also doesn’t take it easy solely coming across as evil in his portrayal.

Only other noteworthy supporting actor is Jiadong Xing who plays Li Jianguo who does a good job who brings thing around in terms of creating a good actor trio. Jiadong holds his own fine with the two leads sharing convincing chemistry with them. While the silent Yueting Lang gets a thankless role. She remains silent for virtually the entire film, and her character ends up going nowhere. Lastly, the actor Ding Yongdai whom plays Zhang Haitao is the only other noteworthy character. His role is small, but well acted. Though, not enough to believe he can shot a gun flawlessly for being imprisoned as long as he has.

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The climax just make Xaun Huang look like a badass.

Action choreography is handled by Chung Chi Li whom over the top nature in action is kept in line thanks to director Alan Mak. The action in this film, for the most part, aims for realism while the physical feats of its performers have no limitations. Creativity is very high in the two action sequences in the beginning of the movie. Starting up with a single man drug bust before going into a car chase. There’s also a brief gunfight involving Xuan Huang meant to display his proficiency with a gun compare to the criminals. After this shootout, it pretty remain inactive on the action front until you get a flashback of a particular event in the story.

Finally, the film biggest selling point to casual viewers is the action climax which makes up around the last 25 minutes of the film. In this climatic actions sequence proficiency is made very clear between the heroes, and the villains. Despite their enemies larger numbers, our heroes use less bullets firing their weapons, and using cover constantly to avoid getting shot. The professionalism is obvious as the criminals are constantly moving around making up for their lack of skills for fire power. It’s a strange thing to compliment since many action movies do the same of proficient heroes vs sloppy evil henchman, but it’s rarely taken into account when it comes to choreography as much as it is here.

The climax is constantly moving from one area to another not just on foot, but eventually on vehicle which offer some cool moments. Either be it a cool shot of Xuan Huang on a motorcycle with a explosion behind him, Xuan Huang on top of a vehicle dodging bullets while taking out some henchman, or one cool looking car crash. It doesn’t try to constantly up the antics during climax, but slowly escalate into cooler, and cooler moments making the final impression the film have you be a positive one. Only drawback is notable usage of CGI, but they are rare in their usage in this sequence. Lastly, Alan Mak direction is fantastic in the movie blending two genre together for a visually coherent film through, and through. There’s only one jarring moment in the film that happens in the film which involves drawings coming to life into, but aside from that one moment Mak direction work fine.

Extraordinary Mission tackles very familiar territory for half of it run, but eventually is able to turn it around to make it a far more interesting character driven story, and displaying some exciting action in a very lengthy climax to end things on a high note. Genre fans of both crime, and action cinema will find individual aspects polarizing. However, anyone who likes both genre equally will witness a film that does a fine job of combining the two.

8/10