Chang Chen

Savage (2018, Cui Siwei)

Savage is not savage. It’s got some violence, some of it rough, and it’s got some mean bad guys, but it’s never savage. I mean, unless it’s supposed to be referring to hero—more than protagonist or lead—Chang Chen. He beats up some suspects pretty bad at the beginning because he’s mad about partner Li Guangjie getting killed in the third or fourth scene, after its established Li and Chang both want the same girl, doctor Ni Ni. Li dies in what should be a routine traffic stop and Chang can’t forgive himself, leading to a bad year between him and Ni (see, she actually wanted him anyway), which catches us up to the present action. Some of the year before stuff is important, most of it not. In fact, they could easily get away with none of it because the dead partner bit plays more to the melodrama, less to the tight, tough action noir. Savage takes too long getting started and ends badly but between the two is a well-executed, continuous (though not real time), very simple, and very physical action movie.

One year after robbing a gold shipment—which opens the movie, it seems somewhat savage but still not enough—robbers Liao Fan, Huang Jue, and Zhang Yicong return to the scene of the crime, where they also killed Li. Savage gives Chang every opportunity to avenge himself upon his foes but he never gives in, much to the film’s detriment as well as the lives of people around Chang. He hasn’t learned much since Li got killed apparently, other than beat up people and get away with it because you’re a cop. Though the guys in the restaurant harassing Ni had it comes and it’s nice to see her not getting smacked around when threatened, which happens a lot in the second half of the movie.

So Chang’s never Savage with the main villains. It’s weird.

The big boss is Liao Fan. He doesn’t talk much, just watches, thinks, acts. Liao’s great. Probably the film’s best performance. He’s fairly savage, but also not. For instance, he’s not as ruthless as Huang Jue, who’s gold-crazed. And excellent. Huang’s also great. Last guy is Zhang Yicong, playing Liao’s dipshit punk little brother. Liao makes Huang babysit Zhang. Zhang’s fine. He doesn’t any heavy lifting but also doesn’t seem to be capable of handling it if he did. Liao and Huang, who both mainly stay reflective versus proactive, seem like they’re in a different and better film in their scenes with Zhang. He doesn’t get it, which is meta, since his character doesn’t get it either.

The problem might just be director Cui and his interest in the actors. Cui and cinematographer Du Jie do a phenomenal job with the snow-pocalypse mountain where Chang chases the bad guys, but Cui couldn’t give a toss about the performances. The melodrama’s better at interior dialogue sequences (i.e. when the characters aren’t worried about getting buried in an avalanche but instead wondering why they can’t find any Swiss Miss in the lodge. The action’s either outside or in the lodge. Once it becomes clear everyone’s going to end up at the lodge, the strong action’s timer starts ticking down. It’s just obvious from early on Cui isn’t going to do as well inside a snowed-in lodge as he does in a snow-drowned wilderness. Cui likes taking time with the action; he needs lots of space.

Ni’s good even if she’s got a crap part and then is a punching bag to emphasis how the bad men are bad. Liu Hua’s good as the partial comic relief, the lodge manager who’s also infamous for poaching.

Even without dialogue, just being present, Liao kind of becomes the lead. Not the protagonist; Ni’s kind of the protagonist. So cop Chang’s the hero, damsel Ni’s the protagonist, and villain Liao’s the lead. It’s a very confused narrative. Cui’s script isn’t quite there.

Awesome music. I’ll be damned if I can find the name of the composer anywhere.

Savage is pretty good for most of its too long runtime. The melodrama doesn’t work, doesn’t inform the plot or the characters… the film’s lean, just not in the right way. And the parts could be a lot better. Cui really fails his actors, in script and direction. Worse, it’s just through indifference. Cui’s not even passionate about not being passionate about them.



Written and directed by Cui Siwei; director of photography, Du Jie; edited by Du Yuan; produced by Terence Chang; released by Huaxia Film Distribution.

Starring Chang Chen (Wang Kangho), Ni Ni (Sun Yan), Liao Fan (Lao Da), Huang Jue (Lao Er), Zhang Yicong (Lao San), Liu Hua (Guo San), and Li Guangjie (Han Xiaosong).

Missing (2008, Tsui Hark)

As Missing‘s end credits rolled, I could only think one thing–this movie is actually going to end. After the two dozen false endings in the third act, it really does feel like it’s never going to stop. There’s probably a post-credits tag, but I’ll never know.

Missing is a mix of Harry Potter, The Sixth Sense and Vanilla Sky. I don’t know why it’s got Harry Potter in there, but it does. There’s some stupid mysticism somewhere in it. Maybe a fight between ghosts or the promise of one. Whatever.

Strangely, until the last act–the big Vanilla Sky reveal (and I’m not feeling bad about spoiling this movie, because even after I say Vanilla Sky, I’m not even getting into those twelve false endings and the final twist)–Missing is completely watchable. The psychologist who sees ghosts following some kind of hypnosis drug? It’s kind of a good time killer. But Missing doesn’t just kill time, it somehow becomes light itself–infinitely long. Even when the movie isn’t bad, it’s long.

Some of the problem–well, technically, all of the problem, but I’m only going to cover some of it here–is how much Tsui Hark loves this movie. There are inexplicable voiceovers about the importance of the sea–both for environmental reasons and experimental psychotherapy. Or something along those lines. It all sounds like bull, so it’s hard to keep track.

His composition is fantastic and he has some great camera moves, but his script is something else. It’s not even neat in the way it all ties together. There are loose ends and the entire, end of the second act twist only works because he’s been deceiving the viewer the entire time. For one of the first times, I finally understood what Leonard Maltin meant when he complained about The Usual Suspects–you get to the end of the movie and it’s clear there wasn’t any reason to watch it. At the end of Missing, there’s this strange third act attempt to slap a big melodramatic romance onto the movie, but it doesn’t matter anymore… the dumb thing is almost over (finally). And it’s turned the protagonist into a brain-damaged simpleton and took the focus away from her, so what’s the point?

The acting in Missing is mediocre. Again, Tsui’s fault. Angelica Lee is never believable as a someone holding an MD, but she does the terrified thing pretty well. Once she turns into the simpleton… it gets painful. Isabella Leong is unimpressive throughout (occasionally, she has eyeshadow to act for her). Chang Chen is good, as is Tony Leung Ka Fai in a too small part.

Missing‘s such a good looking film, such a well-made one, there’s probably some argument for watching it–at least until the end of the second act. Then with the first big twist… well, I’m a little embarrassed I didn’t stop it. But I wasn’t expecting the third act to last three hundred minutes of the film’s two hour running time.



Written and directed by Tsui Hark; director of photography, Sakamoto Yoshitaka; edited by Yau Chi Wai; music by Ricky Ho; production designer, Kenneth Mak; produced by Tsui and Peter Chan; released by Mandarin Films Distribution Co.

Starring Angelica Lee (Dr. Gao Jing), Isabella Leong (Chen Xiao Kai), Chang Chen (Simon), Guo Xiaodong (Dave Chen Guo Dong), Tony Leung Ka Fai (Dr. Edward Tong) and Zhang Zhen-yue (Haiya Amu).

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