Film review: The Brink – Zhang Jin, Shawn Yue fight to the death in pompous action thriller
This promising first feature from director Jonathan Li has some memorable action scenes and set pieces, but in the end the film is let down by a hackneyed screenplay that has very few believable characters
Any film buff who has watched his share of generic crime thrillers would know the screenwriting trick that attributes all the villain’s irrational actions to greed, and the hero’s to his relentless pursuit of justice. Such is the case with Jonathan Li Tsz-chun’s The Brink.
Much like co-producer Soi Cheang Pou-soi’s hysterical Dog Bite Dog (2006) and Shamo (2007), this feature debut by Li – who served as assistant director on those films – relies on absurd characterisation that appears to value an illusion of subversion more than believable characters, of which there are few.
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The nominal hero is Sai Gau ( Ip Man 3 ’s Zhang Jin in his first leading role), a police inspector so inexplicably ferocious that, in the opening action sequence, it is hard to tell if he is a cop raiding a drug den or a mad assassin in the midst of a vicious murder spree.
Still, he remains the story’s moral centre opposite Gui-cheng (Shawn Yue Man-lok), a cold-blooded gangster who treats his woman (Janice Man Wing-shan) like dirt and, in a brutal scene, has his godfather’s son gutted in front of the old man. As Gui-cheng looks to seize control of a gold smuggling trade in international waters, Sai Gau stays hot on his trail.
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While the supporting cast – including Wu Yue as a police buddy taken hostage and Lam Ka-tung as a desk cop spurred into action – serves only to fill genre clichés, The Brink is all about its action design. From an underwater brawl to the three-way climactic fight on a ship in a raging storm, Li and his action choreographer Li Chung-chi have come up with several set pieces to savour.
It’s just too bad that their waterlogged thriller is as technically impressive as it is narratively dubious. The screenplay by Li Chun-fai, who co-wrote Dog Bite Dog, is filled with plot holes so huge a cruise ship can pass through. A promising first film, The Brink could have been far more captivating.
The Brink opens on November 23
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