Film review: start the bilge pump - John Woo's leaky vehicle The Crossing II is a sinker and a stinker

Superfluous backstory and rambling plot as Hong Kong director loses his way

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 October, 2015, 12:29pm
UPDATED : Monday, 19 October, 2015, 7:03pm

A film – based on the historical event – billed as “the Chinese Titanic”, The Crossing tells the true story of the Taiping, a heavily overloaded Shanghai-Taiwan ferry that sank in 1949, killing more than 1,500 passengers. Or at least, the final half-hour of John Woo Yu-sen’s sprawling two-part epic does. Eventually.

As the second half of an unnecessarily drawn-out story, it would be reasonable to expect The Crossing II to be two action-filled hours of capsizing, drowning and lung-straining histrionics. Instead, Woo and screenwriter Wang Huiling spend the first hour recapping the previous film, while adding further superfluous backstory for its doomed characters.

The film’s biggest crime is that, after more than three hours of set-up conceived solely to put sympathetic faces on some of the ill-fated passengers (spoiler: not everyone makes it), it remains difficult to care about who lives and who dies. The Crossing becomes less about the disaster itself, and more just a splashy war-time vehicle for stars like Zhang Ziyi, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Song Hye-kyo and Huang Xiaoming.

When the Taiping eventually sinks, it brings a tear to the eye – not for the thousands lost at sea, but rather the resigned acceptance that Hong Kong cinema has lost one of its truly great directors. Woo built his career as a pioneering visual stylist, whose signature flourishes inspired a generation of filmmakers both local and abroad. To see him churn out such generic bilge provokes a mournful sinking feeling.

The Crossing II opens on October 22