Film review: Robbery – social injustice spawns gratuitous violence in surreal drama

Satirical story set in a Hong Kong convenience store dulled by incredulous plot

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 April, 2016, 1:00pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 April, 2016, 1:00pm

2.5/5 stars

Why didn’t they just run away? It’s the question that will repeatedly plague the audiences for Robbery, which sees around a dozen characters from different walks of life slaughter each other while trapped inside a crime scene. A social allegory of sorts, this gratuitously gory hostage drama by Hong Kong playwright and theatre director Fire Lee Ka-wing (Love in Time) could have packed a stronger punch if it didn’t indulge in plot turns so incredulous, that they could only fit into a supernatural fantasy.

Loosely based on his first written play, Oldsters on Fire, Lee’s third feature film opens with the rant of 32-year-old slacker Ping (Derek Tsang Kwok-cheung), who lives in a cramped government flat with his discordant family. He sees no way out of his impoverished existence. Already numb to his surroundings – he is less concerned about a double suicide happening in front of him than the fact that the splash of blood has ruined his only expensive sweater – Ping takes up a job at a convenience store to pass the time.

Is Hong Kong at a dead end? Nihilistic films The Mobfathers, Trivisa and Robbery suggest it is

No sooner has he started alongside fellow shopkeeper Mabel (Rachel Lui Sam-yu, also known as J.Arie) than a disgruntled old man (Stanley Fung Shui-fan) stabs his unpleasant boss (Lam Suet) in the neck with a pair of scissors. As the dispute turns into an improvised hold-up, the ensemble is soon joined by a dirty cop-turned serial murderer (Philip Keung Ho-man), a sexy doctor (Anita Chui Bik-ka) under duress from a criminal kingpin (Eric Kwok Wai-leung), and a few other similarly deranged denizens.

By putting these psychopaths in the same room and generally letting them get their way, Lee’s highly stylised chamber piece starts out as a platform for venting everyone’s simmering frustration with the injustice in Hong Kong society. But when it morphs unwittingly into a spectacle of senseless violence, which feels very much like a parody itself, Robbery strikes up such a surreal tone that it inadvertently blunts its satirical edge. Even a slightly more plausible script could have worked wonders.

Robbery opens on April 14

Want more articles like this? Follow SCMP Film on Facebook