Non-stop action and tension

Andy Lau (above left) plays kidnap victim Wu Ruofu and Wang Qianyuan (above right) plays criminal mastermind Zhang Hua.
Andy Lau (above left) plays kidnap victim Wu Ruofu and Wang Qianyuan (above right) plays criminal mastermind Zhang Hua. PHOTOS: CLOVER FILMS

REVIEW / THRILLER DRAMA

SAVING MR WU (PG13)

106 minutes/Opens tomorrow/ 3.5/5 STARS

The story: Based on a real abduction case in 2004, when China actor Wu Ruofu was kidnapped outside a Beijing bar, this drama follows the single day that the actor (played here by Andy Lau) was held captive. Ex-convict Zhang Hua (Wang Qianyuan), who has been linked to several other kidnappings in the past, is immediately singled out as suspect No. 1, but knowing how elusive he is, the cops have a tough case ahead of them.

The entire film unfolds in under a day, but it is an utterly tense 20-odd hours from start to finish. There is no time to pause and mull over what is going on onscreen because as soon as the titular Mr Wu gets kidnapped, the action never stops.

For the cops, the pressure of having to nab the villains as soon as possible is multiplied many times, given the victim's movie star status.

The main villain himself remarks at one point that he wishes he had never targeted an actor in the first place, due to the high-profile nature of the case.

Meanwhile, Mr Wu tries his best to negotiate his way out of the mess, all the while remaining surprisingly dignified. Bravely, he even provides solace to the terrified stranger kidnapped along with him.

Despite being bound in chains and confined to a tiny bed space for most of the film, Hong Kong veteran actor Andy Lau delivers a moving and believable performance as a man who refuses to give up hope in the face of imminent death.

Lau's real-life superstar status has been known to get in the way of his acting before, so difficult it is for him to shake off his idol image. But this works in his favour here, since he portrays a celebrity so well known that he is instantly recognised by anyone who sees him, including one slightly star-struck and rather conflicted baddie. The villain tells Mr Wu in the midst of chaining him up that he loves watching his films, gesturing towards a wall calendar in the room with the star's face on it.

Unfortunately, director Ding Sheng (Police Story, 2013) gets carried away with the movie star references. He weaves in several bizarre scenes where Mr Wu imagines how he would resolve the situation if he had been on a movie set - crazy gun shootouts and dramatic fistfights, which are jarring against the rest of the film's solemn tone.

While all the attention is naturally on Mr Wu and Lau, the film's true breakout star here is China actor Wang Qianyuan, who is vicious as the criminal mastermind.

One can only imagine what the real Mr Wu had felt during the actual ordeal more than a decade ago. It is hard to tell by his muted performance in a supporting role here as a cop, but if his abductor had been anywhere as menacing as Zhang Hua is depicted in this movie, it is understandable why he had so adamantly rejected the offer to play himself.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 30, 2015, with the headline 'Non-stop action and tension'. Print Edition | Subscribe