| In Mandarin with English and Chinese subtitles
Director: Chen Guo-fu & Gao Qunshu
Cast: Zhou Xun,
Huang Xiaoming, Alec Su, Zhang Hanyu, Wang Zhiwen, Ying Da
RunTime: 2 hrs 4 mins
Released By: GV & Scorpio East Pictures
Official Website: http://message.hbpictures.com
Opening Day: 1 October 2009
1942 Nanking, the then capital city of China has fallen into the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army, where they established and controlled the puppet government. After various deadly attacks and assassination attempts by underground guerillas, it became evident that there has been a leak of intelligence, and someone is working undercover within the Intelligence Bureau for the underground revolutionists. A group of unsuspecting key officials that had a hand in the circulation of a staged encoded message are captured and transported to a far off mansion in the middle of the night for interrogation. As they are each served with torture and counter-intelligence tactics, they soon realize that no one will be able to leave until the snitch is identified. The only way for them to survive through this, would be to turn on each other…
There is something about movies which help people like this reviewer to learn more about history. The bombing of Pearl Harbour? Thank you, Michael Bay. The rise and fall of Eva Peron? Thank you, Alan Parker. And closer to home, the legacy of the Soong Sisters? Thank you, Mabel Cheung. And that is why, whenever a war espionage film like this one comes along, this reviewer would deem it the perfect opportunity to beef up his limited knowledge of what happened in the past. Fictional or not, pictures like this allow viewers to get a peek of what it was like to live in that era, where everyone seemed more patriotic and less self centered.
Directors Chen Kuo-fu (Double Vision) and Gao Qunshu (The Tokyo Trial) transport viewers back some 70 years back to Nanking during the terrible times of World War II. It was a time when dangerous spies lurk round every corner, and you had no idea who to trust. The film’s limelight falls on a group of suspects gathered in a mansion by a Japanese spy chief. One by one these suspects are eliminated, but the essential member of this patriotic group must send out a crucial message at all means while protecting his (or her?) true identity. What ensues is a drama which develops itself finely like a game of Cluedo, where the mastermind of the game must hide his (or her?) true intentions behind the torturous proceedings in the grand captive ground.
Based on a novel, Chen wrote the screenplay for this “cat and mouse” game which engagingly provides a glimpse for today’s audiences of what it means to feel nationalistic pride in the past. It does evoke that sense of devotion and loyalty, and makes you wonder whether a local film can stir up the same feeling? While this doubt’s answers lies in the vast differences in culture and history, one cannot overlook the impressive production values of this film boasting Feng Xiaogang’s (If You Are The One) name as its executive producer.
The two hour movie manages to bring together some credible names to create an authentic look for the movie. Jake Pollock (Yang Yang)’s lush cinematography enhances the intricate costume design by Tim Yip (Red Cliff). The comfortable pacing of the editing, the well executed soundscape and the entrancing production design will mesmerize viewers from beginning to end.
And thankfully, the storytelling does not disappoint too. The gradual build up of the plot culminates in a finale which may be arguably predictable, but works well for a film of this genre. Credit goes to the spot on cast, all of whom shine in their own character. There is Zhang Hanyu (Assembly) as a long suffering militarist, Huang Xiaoming (Sniper) as the Japanese soldier, Alec Su (L-O-V-E) as a lieutenant and Li Bingbing (The Forbidden Kingdom). Zhang and Huang exudes charisma in their pain inflicted roles, Su creates quite a show with his portrayal of an effeminate officer and Li makes viewers feel her agony with a unique aura of quietness. There is nothing to fault with the acting, as it is with Zhou Xun’s (Perhaps Love) code breaker character. Effortlessly moving through the film with her distinctive allure, she is no doubt one of the greatest movie actresses of our time.
There is something about movies which help people like this reviewer to learn more about history. And despite being a fictional thriller, this finely made production has left this reviewer wondering what it was like to live in a time when you lived for your country.
(An impressively produced film which succeeds in making you feel for its story and characters)
Review by John Li