Saturday, August 7, 2010

Black Ransom (2010)

A series of kidnappings of mid-level triad bosses is being committed in Hong Kong. The perpetrators are a group of ex-cops led by Sam (Michael Miu), a man with a character-defining trauma so generic I refuse to explain it here and see themselves as doling out some sort of vigilante justice while making a lot of money before killing their chosen victims. The kidnappers count on the fact that the families of their victims will rather pay a princely sum to get their loved ones back than go to the police as well as the fact that the police won't look too hard for disappeared gangsters.

Sam's plan works well enough until someone does go to the police with a kidnapping in progress. At first, his tight-knit gang has no trouble dealing with the attention, but after a major fiasco, the new Chief of the Organized Crime Unit, Madame Koo (Fala Chen), puts her trust into the aging cop Mann (Simon Yam). Mann hasn't been allowed to carry much responsibility for a long time now. The cop liked his relegation to the back ranks because it afforded him time to nurse his own character-defining trauma, but once he has gotten on Sam's trail, he proves himself to be exactly the man Madame Koo has hoped for.

Little does he know that his character-defining trauma and that of Sam are the responsibility of the same man, and little does the film try to explain what the motives of the gangster responsible for inflicting said traumata were. After all, this is a Wong Jing movie, and ridiculous coincidences are much easier to come up with than proper plot development.

Black Ransom was shot in 2008 but only came into Hong Kong cinemas at the beginning of this year, very atypical for a movie made in the city. At first, this factoid frightened me a little. How bad, I thought to myself, must a film be so that Wong Jing doesn't want to see it released? The film's first thirty minutes seem to suggest that a film must be solid and watchable to achieve this special sort of treatment by the producer/director/writer/fan of rape jokes, but the threat of a film that is actually good in the way people less inclined to follow the ways of pain in a movie than I am use that word dissolves soon after. A bit later, and every major development in the film's plot begins to depend on pure, mindnumbingly idiotic chance and/or the utter stupidity of its characters. The latter is especially problematic when one keeps in mind that Yam's and Miu's characters are supposed to be genius level cops and robbers.

I wouldn't complain too loudly about its non-script if the film was trying to be a silly, fast action movie that lives by its ability to produce visceral thrills, but for some reason Wong Jing seems to think he's making a film about the moral and intellectual duel between two intellectual manly man who have more in common than they would ever admit (and where oh where have I heard that one before?). In this context, much of the film's plotting and characterization has the stink of a laziness that tries to hide behind melodramatic posturing, as if emotional weight could be won simply by telling the audience it's there.

This notwithstanding, I can't say I didn't feel entertained by Black Ransom. It might have been the very un-Wong-Jing-like absence of rape "jokes" and rape sequences, or Simon Yam's highly ironic (or is it post-ironic?) performance as a cop seemingly based on the Alec Guinness version of Obi Wan Kenobi, or the increasing absurdity of the script's refusal to do anything beyond heaping stupid coincidence on even more stupid coincidence, or it might even have been the pretended gravitas of it all, in any case I spent most of my time watching Black Ransom giggling like a loon.

I don't think that was the reaction Wong Jing had in mind, but it's the one he got out of me.


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