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Max Zhang Jin (Actor) | Wu Yue (Actor) | Shawn Yue (Actor) | Gordon Lam
This professional review refers to The Brink (2017) (Blu-ray) (Hong Kong Version)
Having worked on the likes of Overheard 3 and Blind Detective, Jonathan Li steps up to make his debut with The Brink, backed by heavyweight producing duo Soi Cheang and Paco Wong. A gritty action thriller revolving around gold smuggling fishermen, the film also marks the first lead role for actor Zhang Jin, a rising action star who made his mark in The Grandmaster, S.P.L. 2 and Ip Man 3, here playing a wayward cop who comes up against a ruthless criminal played by Shawn Yue (Wu Kong) on the stormy seas surrounding Hong Kong, backed by an impressive supporting cast of familiar faces, including Wu Yue (Paradox), Gordon Lam (Trivisa) and Janice Man (Helios).
The film opens with Zhang Jin's hot-headed cop Sai Gau being released from a spell behind bars after an on the job incident which saw a suspect being thrown from a window, now sporting a blond hairdo and even more driven to bring down the bad guys by any means necessary, much to the chagrin of his long-suffering bureaucratic boss (Gordon Lam) and his new partner A-de (Wu Yue), who just happens to be on his last day as an officer. Sai Gau's new target is a gold smuggling ring run by the cold-blooded and ruthless Shing (Shawn Yue), who recently took over after murdering his former boss. Things become more complicated when a botched operation sees A-de being captured, setting the scene for an almighty showdown directly in the path of a typhoon heading for Hong Kong.
Clearly, there's nothing new to the story of The Brink, which follows the post-S.P.L. Hong Kong thriller template to the letter, playing out exactly as expected, being a standard tale of men on the edge doing what men on the edge always do, very much in the usual style of producers Soi Cheang and Paco Wong. Greed is the key theme here, the gold corrupting everyone who chases after it, causing endless problems as it changes hands and gets brought up from the seabed time and time again, leading to a conclusion signposted from early on. Matters aren't helped by the fact that the film is populated entirely by sketchily-written and stereotypical characters, from the rule breaking, tough-talking Sai Gau, held back by his shouty desk jockey boss, through to the sullen and obtuse Shing – it's worth mentioning that the female characters get very short shrift indeed, only being on hand to provide submissive eye candy and to give the angry men a reason to get even angrier. This general lack of substance and ambition when it comes to the narrative means that there's little in the way of dramatic tension, and though the cast are all fine, the film never attains the kind of emotional punch or convincing sense of pained, rugged machismo it seems to be aiming for.
Of course, for this kind of genre fare, and The Brink is nothing if not a B-Movie writ large, compelling characters and an original story are merely 'nice to haves', and the film to its credit succeeds in most other areas, Jonathan Li doing a sterling job in his directorial debut. Boasting good production values, the film certainly looks impressive throughout, making great use of the seedier, rundown side of Hong Kong, in particular the docks, and Li keeps things moving at a brisk, though controlled pace, showing a good understanding of when to throw in set pieces rather than simply taking a kitchen sink approach. The action itself, choreographed by Li Chung Chi (SPL 2: A Time for Consequences) is above average, and though the film would have benefitted from a bit less slow motion and CGI enhanced scenes of characters hurling themselves at each other videogame-style, it's for the most part thrilling and exciting. It’s here that the film does achieve some kind of originality, its awesome climatic typhoon sequence and an underwater battle helping to set it apart from other Hong Kong thrillers, at least somewhat. The film also provides plenty of opportunities for Zhang Jin to show off his skills and to cement his action star status, and though his character might not be the most interesting, he's nevertheless convincingly violent.
As a modern Hong Kong action thriller, The Brink, while no classic, is better than many recent others of its type, and marks a reasonably promising debut for Jonathan Li. Clearly having learned his trade and techniques on Overheard 3 and other films, it'd be good to see him develop his own style in the future, when hopefully he might be blessed with a more challenging script.
by James Mudge -EasternKicks.com