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Chinese language cinema

Film review: Undercover Duet - Mark Wu's mediocre buddy movie

Movie's shortcomings reveal the naked truth about Mark Wu - without a band of scantily clad starlets around him, he tries too hard to be funny

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 August, 2015, 4:40pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 August, 2015, 4:45pm

For all the jovial abandon with which he throws himself into his Undercover Duet co-leading role,  Mark Wu Yiu-fai – a  co-writer of  3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy and the first  two Lan Kwai Fong movies, and the director-co-scriptwriter of  Due West: Our Sex Journey – must have been an optimist to assume viewers of those raunchy comedies would be here for his witty humour only.

And so the Hong Kong actor puts his charm to the test in this flaccid buddy comedy, which he also  writes and directs. Wu stars with knowing – but not enough – self-deprecation as James Man, a wannabe actor aspiring to win a national male pageant contest for his  visually impaired younger sister Kwan  (Ava Liu Yu-kiu), who is in dire need  of money and cheerfulness before undergoing eye surgery.

Things turn precarious when James becomes the sole witness of a fatal car accident, where a property tycoon’s son conspires with another shady figure to falsely claim he wasn’t at the wheel. Then the slapstick farce kicks in when James’ childhood friend, the Harlem-raised undercover cop  Dream Dragon  (Ronald Cheng Chung-kei), is given the mission to make him a prosecution witness.

While Wu’s pop cultural spoofs are largely hit-and-miss – there’s an especially snarky gag pitching the next instalment of Michael Bay’s robot movie series, titled Transforman, as a Chinese New Year offering – his creativity fades as Undercover Duet gradually ditches its Hong Kong setting to become a mediocre Shanghai-set action thriller. It also tries to set Wu and Cheng up for a bromance, and fails.

A frantic series of dime-a-dozen chase and fight scenes in which characters strive to get their hands on a mobile phone containing footage of the accident – no one realises that destroying a phone doesn’t  destroy  evidence  in this digital age – smacks of desperation. Next time he operates without a band of scantily clad starlets around him, Wu  would do well to just try to be funny.

Undercover Duet opens on August 27