The Brink 狂兽 (2017) Review

Upon investigating a police case related to a gang of gold smugglers led by Jiang Gui (Shawn Yue), Sai Gau (Zhang Jin) gets personal when his partner, A-de (Wu Yue) is abducted.

After years of playing second fiddles in action movies like The Grandmaster (2013), SPL II: A Time of Consequences and Ip Man 3 (both released in 2015), it’s about time that Zhang Jin finally earns his place in the leading role status.

The result is The Brink, an action thriller which sees Zhang Jin looking all bad-ass with rock star-like bleached blonde hairstyle and flashy wardrobe. He sure looks the part playing a renegade cop who likes to do things his own way. But he’s even better when he engages in a series of fighting sequences. This is where he shines the most. Whether he fights a group of thugs in the alley or going one against two (Shawn Yue and Wu Yue) on the deck of a fishing boat, Zhang continues to prove his worth as a prominent martial arts actor with amazing agility.

Speaking of action, Li Chung-Chi’s choreography is both visceral and engaging. This is unlike the disappointingly wirework-heavy action scenes seen in SPL II: A Time of Consequences. Instead, The Brink shares a lot in common with Donnie Yen’s SPL (2005) and this year’s Paradox where the fight scenes are grounded, gritty and ferocious. He even made clever use of various cramped locations including wet market and harbour to stage impressive foot chases. But his notable action design is the elaborate open car park scene where Zhang encounters a knife-wielding assassin. At one point, Li even upped the ante by making Zhang fights the assassin with one hand while his other hand is handcuffed to a suspect. This is no doubt the single best action scene I’ve ever seen in a Hong Kong movie this year.

Then, there’s the well-staged underwater fight scene during the second half of the movie. It’s not every day we get to see such a scene in a Hong Kong movie. In fact, the last time I recalled a scene like this appeared in a Hong Kong movie was Police Story 4: First Strike (1996) where Jackie Chan fights the bad guys inside a giant aquarium. If that’s not enough, the movie features a rare action-packed finale set atop the fishing boat amidst the raging typhoon. The typhoon sequence itself is surprisingly top-notch with convincing special effects that rivalled Hollywood disaster blockbusters like The Perfect Storm (2000). 

Kudos also go to Kenny Tse (who also lensed Paradox), whose moody cinematography perfectly captured the Hong Kong underbelly of alleyways, markets, dingy buildings and fishing community. Director Jonathan Li, formerly an assistant director for movies like Initial D (2005), Dog Bite Dog (2006) and Blind Detective (2013), shows a lot of promise in his directorial debut. He clearly understands what makes a good Hong Kong action movie, particularly in the technical department.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the plot and character development. Despite Lee Chun-Fai’s potentially pulpy, yet genre-friendly screenplay that recalls the work of a Milkyway production directed by Johnnie To or Soi Cheang, the execution is sadly underdeveloped. It’s like as if the movie spends too much time perfecting the technical area but forgets about developing the plot. Apart from a skimpy storyline, the motivation is just as vague and at times, baffling. For instance, why does Sai Gau is so determined to capture Jiang Gui at all cost? While it’s understandable that he portrays as a relentless cop dedicated to his job, that’s still not enough to justify his action. Even with Sai Gau’s sheer determination to bring down Jiang Gui because of his best friend, A-de got abducted, it’s hard to root for his action. There is neither a scene convincing enough between Sai Gau and A-de are like brothers nor a proper development between the two.

As for the supporting cast, Shawn Yue pulls off a decent performance as the main antagonist, Jiang Gui. Wu Yue looks good during the fight scenes but his acting performance is disappointingly average, a far cry from what he did in Paradox. Lam Ka-Tung delivers a sort of comic relief for a change as Sai Gau’s desk-bound superior. Janice Man, who plays Jiang Gui’s nameless girlfriend, is feisty as usual. She instantly reminds me of Helios (2015), with the exception that her character is given little room to display her acting prowess. A minor appearance from Japanese veteran Yasuaki Kurata is certainly a welcome addition here, but it’s a pity he doesn’t get to involve in a fight scene.

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