Review: THAT DEMON WITHIN 魔警 (2014) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Review: THAT DEMON WITHIN 魔警 (2014)

A flawed but solid genre-bending thriller that mixes Dante Lam's trademark gritty cop noir and dark supernatural elements.

After venturing into the big-budget blockbuster (2011's THE VIRAL FACTOR) and sports drama (2013's UNBEATABLE) territory, director Dante Lam and his regular screenwriter Jack Ng has finally returned to their familiar character-driven cop drama territory since 2010's THE STOOL PIGEON. The result is THAT DEMON WITHIN, at which they inject something fresh into their well-worn genre by incorporating Chinese supernatural elements.

When Hon (Nick Cheung), the notorious gang leader of the "Demon King" masked robbers, is seriously injured in a motorcycle accident during a police chase, he ends up in a hospital where the police officer on duty, Dave Wong (Daniel Wu), unwittingly saved Hon's life by performing a blood transfusion because both of them shared the same rare blood type. Inspector Mok (Lam Ka-Wah), the cop who is in charge of the "Demon King" case, is angry with Dave for saving Hon, but couldn't do anything because Dave doesn't know Hon's identity in the first place. Soon after, Dave begins to experience a series of mental hallucinations about his murky past, and even finds himself adopting Hon's evil personality.
Likewise, Dante Lam has successfully infused gritty action with a strong emotional impact that goes one step further by making his movie as bleak as possible. In fact, watching THAT DEMON WITHIN is like experiencing the glory days of Category III era in the '90s where everything is so pessimistic, ugly and uncompromisingly brutal in terms of human nature and physical violence. Thanks to Kenny Tse's moody cinematography and Leon Ko's Bernard Hermann-like string-laden score, the movie is also particularly a triumph of visual representation. Aside from Lam's usual handheld camerawork, he gets to play around with different camera techniques (such as the Spike Lee-like floating dolly shot in a hospital scene) in the utmost interesting way that often made the movie both gritty and surrealistic at the same time.

Meanwhile, Jack Ng's and Dante Lam's screenplay is both energetic and creepy. As a matter of fact, their narrative approach evokes the sublime works of Alfred Hitchcock and Brian De Palma.
Daniel Wu carries his role effectively as the mentally-tortured Dave Wong, while Lam Ka-Wah makes the best use of his limited screen time as the no-nonsense police inspector. Another screen veteran, Liu Kai-Chi, provides an equally strong support as the wicked "Broker", and so does the rest of the supporting actors including Leung Cheuk-Moon, Lee Kwok-Lun and Au Kam-Tong.

The brutal shootout sequence at the flyover; the elaborate scheme where Dave manages to make all four "Demon King" gang members (Liu Kai-Chi, Leung Cheuk-Moon, Lee Kwok-Lun and Au Kam-Tong) end up suspecting and even killing each other at some point; and the explosive finale at the petrol station.

For those who are expecting another solid or groundbreaking performance from Nick Cheung (who recently won Best Actor for UNBEATABLE at the 33rd Hong Kong Film Awards), it's kind of a pity that Cheung's performance as the evil Hon is largely sidelined throughout the movie. It's almost as if his appearance is more like a glorified cameo. Despite the supporting presence of Andy On, he mostly shows up in a thankless performance until his role finally found significant value towards the crucial ending but not nearly enough to make his role worthwhile. As for the female cast, both Christie Chen and Astrid Chan (who plays Liz's psychiatrist sister, Stephanie) are sadly undermined throughout their performances.

While the story has a few intense moments, there are times where the psychological and supernatural elements are cranked up to an almost preposterous level. Another glaring problem here is Lam's penchant for using lots of CGI flames that almost robbed the overall intensity of the movie.

Several flaws aside, THAT DEMON WITHIN qualifies as one of the best Hong Kong movies of the year and also marked as another winning effort from Dante Lam.

* This review is written courtesy from GSC Movies press screening *

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