Saturday, 26 April 2014

Movie Review: That Demon Within (魔警)

Previous Review: Transcendence

 After the success of Unbeatable (激战), The Stool Pigeon (线人) and Beast Stalker (证人), Dante Lam is back again with Nick Cheung for That Demon Within (魔警), a dark, intense, riveting, character-driven psychological crime drama action thriller. But this time around, Daniel Wu plays the central lead character instead of Nick Cheung, who has lesser screen time compared to Dante's previous films. 
The film explores the evil that exists in every single one of us, no matter how righteous we seemed to be on the surface. The story is about an overly-righteous policeman with a troubled past, Dave who ignorantly donate his blood to save Hong Kong's most dangerous criminal Hon, who is seriously injured after trying to escape from a heist. This random act of kindness causes more problems, as Hon continue his villainous work, leaving more cops and innocent people harmed and killed in the process. This has put serious strain on Dave as he tries to salvage the situation. Eventually, he becomes so obssessed in hunting down Hon that his dark past starts to haunt him again, providing further damage to his fragile psyche.
 The cinematography is superb as usual and the gritty, violent action sequences are not over-the-top, frenetic or shaky compared to many recent released Hong Kong/China production nowadays, which is commendable. The location and setting for the film (the rooms, streets, buildings) provides a moody and grim atmosphere in an otherwise bleak film. The film has some pretty good pacing, plot developments as it keeps me engaged in it without a look at my watch.
Daniel Wu managed to deliver a good performance as the emotionally unstable police officer, has some great on-screen psychotic moments as he breaks down. The moments are taken in close camera shots (it looked as if the camera is strapped to his chest), providing the audience a closer, impactful view of his trauma. Over the years, Nick Cheung has successfully established himself as a credible actor with award-winning worthy performance. Despite his minimal involvement in the film, his villainous performance as Hon still manage to provide an impact to the audience.
Overall, the film managed to provide an interesting, exciting new take on the cop-thriller genre, which is not easy in my opinion. (Hong Kong has done many successful cop-thrillers in the past, themes or plot devices are heavily overused in many past productions) It's a recommended watch.

Rating: 8/10

Previous Review: Transcendence

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Movie Review: Transcendence

Next Review: That Demon Within

Transcendence is a disappointing sci-fi thriller that doesn't live up to its potential, despite its talented casts (Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara and Morgan Freeman) and directed by the Nolan's preferred and talented cinematographer, Wally Pfister.

The film has an interesting premise (similar to Skynet A.I. from the Terminator franchise or 'Her'), full of smart, big ideas, due to the questions that it poses at the beginning of the film: Where the future of mankind is heading due to technological advancement? What nanotechnology and A.I. (artificial intelligence) can possibly do to shape a better future for mankind? What is self-awareness? What happens if we can actually transfer our consciousness to a computer? Would that really be us? Is this truly the next step of human evolution? Is it truly possible that technological singularity (a hypothetical moment in time when A.I. has progressed to the point of a greater-than-human intelligence, changing civilization and human nature) can be achieved? How does it affect our beliefs and religion? The film also questions the morality of doing such a thing, mentioning the possible benefits and negative consequences as well.
While these big, interesting questions are mostly without answers, but that is enough to make a thought-provoking story that sparks useful discussions for many years to come.

However, the film failed to deliver a compelling and engaging story from the high-concept ideas presented earlier in the film. Nothing that happens in the story actually excites you, or makes you feel that it's thought-provoking or 'evolutionary', which might lead many audience to have the misconception that the pacing is rather slow. A lot of details are not fully elaborated or explained in the film and it requires the audience to roughly guess or think on how some of the events actually happened in the film. None of the characters in the film are memorable, have character development for the audience to know them, despite solid performances from the casts, especially Rebecca, who did all the best she could to show her struggles to cope with her husband's eventual death, devotion, eventual fear and mistrust to her husband to the audience. The script is just poorly written and effectively ruined the film.

Bad things aside, Pfister's style of cinematography is commendable, the film's visuals are outstanding and effectively captures the character and nature scenes well. (Although it is unknown why there's too many random nature shots taken and shown in the film). Personally, I think the ending scene was well made enough, when Will's motivation was finally revealed to the audience. (But what happened throughout the film seemingly contradicts his intentions though.) The film seems to be a cautionary tale about science and technology at first, but later on it shifts to condemn our tendency to choose personal freedom above the well-being of all life. (individualism vs. collectivism)

Don't get me wrong, while the film itself isn't terrible, but the film failed to deliver its promise. It could have been so much more, but the film just didn't 'transcend' to the level it needs to be.

Rating: 6.5/10

Next Review: That Demon Within