Genre: Action/Crime
Director: Herman Yau
Cast: Jacky Cheung, Nicholas Tse, Karena Lam, Cya Liu, Kenny Kwan, Carlos Chan, Michelle Wai, Ben Yuen, Michelle Yim, Shek Sau, Melvin Wong, Angus Yeung, Amanda S, Francis Ng
Runtime: 1 hr 55 mins
Rating: NC16 (Some Violence)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Official Website: 

Opening Day: 4 July 2024

Synopsis: Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department officers Chow Ching-lai (Nicholas Tse) and Cheung Wan-nam (Jacky Cheung) share a close mentor-student relationship. On a case involving seized smuggled arms, Ching-lai is sent to take part in a joint operation with Interpol to capture a reclusive arms dealer. However, Wan-nam makes a drastic decision that complicates the case even further. 

Movie Review:

Herman Yau is one of the few Hong Kong directors who can do big, bombastic action spectacle, which explains why he is one of the go-to persons for such recent blockbusters like ‘The White Storm 3: Heaven or Hell’ or ‘Shock Wave 2’. Yau is also unequivocally the most hardworking director in Hong Kong today, with no less than four movies released last year and two to date this year. Those familiar with Yau’s works though will know that he employs a largely workmanlike style to his films, which while eminently watchable in and of themselves, also means that any measure of artistic or creative qualities will unfortunately fall to other members of the production.

‘Customs Frontline’ is unfortunately worse off for that very reason. Using the Hong Kong Customs as a front to engineer the same type of spectacle in his recent big-budget works, Yau takes the opportunity to stage a number of explosive, high-impact sequences, including a daring daytime raid on a protected Customs facility, a surprise attack on an African general’s base in the fictional Republic of Loklamana, and a Customs assault on a stolen container ship that veers into the waters of Victoria Harbour. In turn, Yau has left the plotting to his usual collaborators – namely, writing duo Erica Lee and Eric Lee – who have done a slapdash job that almost imperils the entire movie.

Over the course of two hours, ‘Customs Frontline’ goes from a stretch of the imagination to just plain ludicrous, no thanks to an unnecessary twist involving a traitor from within the ranks of the Customs. We can forgive the cliched premise about a war between two fictional African nations, as excuse for the backdrop of illegal arms smuggling that justifies the gunfights and explosions for the action. Ditto the unconvincing involvement of just two Thai officers, notwithstanding the larger Interpol interest. What we cannot look past however is the frankly incompetent attempt at injecting depth into Jacky Cheung’s Cheung Wan-nam, in the form of a bipolar disorder that is later on revealed to have been triggered by his own internal moral struggle.

Neither of the Lees seem to have sufficient conviction to pull off the twist, nor for that matter does Yau have the finesse to weave it into the storytelling, so much so that the result is just painful to watch – what with a whole lot of flashbacks squeezed into the third act to try to over-explain just what would lead Nam down this misguided path, and a sadly miscast Cheung trying his best to emote the sort of unhingedness that only very few Hong Kong actors (like Sean Lau did in ‘Detectives Versus Sleuths’) can pull off. To be fair, not only Cheung but Nicholas Tse is also guilty of histrionics in the movie, which also speaks to how little direction Yau has paid to the performances of his two lead actors.

All that focus instead has been spent on the action, for which Tse also serves as choreographer. Much has been said about his debut in such a capacity, and to his credit, Tse does credibly both in front and behind the camera. Tse’s emphasis on real stunts is evident, and his commitment to execute many of these by himself is also admirable. Alas, some of that hard work is lost amidst the hectic camera work, which not only has the attention span of a 5-year old but also over-indulges in close-ups; the editing is likewise disorderly, with some obvious continuity issues that are simply inexcusable. Yau also lacks the meticulousness of fellow directors like Dante Lam and the late Benny Chan – and a perfect case in point is how the destruction of the Star Ferry Pier that is intended to be the piece de resistance of the climax is oddly uninvolving and even anti-climactic.

For all its hype, ‘Customs Frontline’ is a major letdown. Despite its ambitions, the action is overblown, and hardly as thrilling as it ought or intended to be. It is also overwrought, especially like we described in its midway twist of Nam’s bipolar disorder and apparent betrayal of his fellow Customs officers. And last but not least, it is also overlong, with plenty of undercooked subplots like the rivalry between Francis Ng’s operations commander Kwok and Karena Lam’s intelligence head Shao or even the romance between Nam and Shao. Our truly well-intentioned advice to Yau is to invest more time in each of his films; especially with such large-scale endeavours as this, Yau’s workmanlike approach is not even functional but downright sloppy.

Movie Rating:

(Overblown, overwrought and overlong, 'Customs Frontline' is sloppy in almost every respect, and ultimately a huge letdown)

Review by Gabriel Chong


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