The Trough film review: Nick Cheung reinvents Hong Kong noir with hyper-stylised third outing as director
Set in a futuristic multiracial city where it’s always raining, The Trough is not your typical cops-and-robbers film. Cheung plays an unhinged detective on the trail of a crime boss, but audiences shouldn’t dwell too much on the story
Anyone who presumed that Nick Cheung Ka-fai would emulate the style of frequent collaborators Dante Lam Chiu-yin and Johnnie To Kei-fung as a director is in for a surprise. While the acclaimed actor has shown that he’s neither the most elegant, nor the most persuasive, storyteller with his three films to date, his bizarre vision has brought unusual twists to their genres.
The Trough may seem to promise the usual mix of explosive shoot-outs and car crashes, but it unspools in a fictional, crime-ridden, multiracial city perpetually soaked in rain – an inspired stroke. The film puts this futuristic setting to good use, showing us everything from its underlit computer towers to surgically enhanced children. This is not your typical cops-and-robbers thriller.
Cheung plays undercover policeman Qiu, whose tragic personal story and long years operating alongside depraved criminals have made him more than a little mentally unhinged. It is to Qiu that his superior Jim (He Jiong) – seemingly the last good cop in the force – turns to track down “Boss”, the city’s mysterious criminal mastermind.
The first half of the film plays like a dystopian fable in search for a cause to rebel against, as Qiu crosses paths with one flamboyant mobster after another – including a philosophising Michael Miu Kiu-wai, a brash Lam Suet and a comically evil Yuen Wah. A cat-and-mouse game in the third act, anchored by Xu Jinglei, whose top billing feels like a spoiler, takes the narrative to an admirably odd place.
While the near-monochrome visuals, kitschy character design and some very glaring plot holes vie for attention in Cheung’s highly stylised third feature, one can’t help but appreciate the thought that he has put into creating the unique look and soundscape of this nasty pulp fantasy.
If Cheung the writer, director and star can master the basics of storytelling, he may one day become a visionary filmmaker.
The Trough opens on May 3
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