THAT DEMON WITHIN (NC16)
111 minutes/Opens Friday/ **
The story: Hon Kong (Nick Cheung) is a ruthless criminal who dons a demon king mask when committing audacious heists with his gang. Hunted down by the police, he ends up wounded in a hospital, where cop Dave Wong (Daniel Wu) unwittingly saves him. There appears to be a deeper connection between the two men though and the encounter shakes loose Dave's already tenuous grip on reality.
Hong Kong's Dante Lam and Nick Cheung have been a winning combination in their past collaborations.
Cheung won Best Actor at the Hong Kong Film Awards for action thriller Beast Stalker (2008) and just recently for the mixed martial-arts flick Unbeatable (2013), which was also nominated for Best Film and Best Director.
They are not an infallible duo though, and That Demon Within is a murky thriller that is clumsy in execution.
Partly it is because the reliable Cheung takes a backseat to the less compelling Daniel Wu (Control, 2013) here. Wu is more convincing as the rigid cop who is an absolute stickler for procedure and doing the right thing than as a man who begins to unravel.
And Lam's heavy-handed and literal approach borders on the cheesy.
When Dave goes into a blind rage, the screen gets tinted with red. I was half expecting him to turn green next and morph into the angry Hulk.
The jerky stop-start pacing was also distracting. And then the film starts focusing on the gang behind the heists as they turn upon one another.
The idea of a funeral parlour serving as a front for vicious robbers is an interesting one. Stolen goods are smuggled in coffins and dead bodies and the setting is unusual and distinctive.
But instead of just exploring this one idea, Lam throws it into this messy movie which also wants to tackle the thin line between good and evil. The movie is further muddied with an excursion into mental instability.
As Dave loses his grip on reality, he plunges into a downward spiral that even a well-meaning superior cannot pull him out of.
The film ends with a flashback that is meant to shed light on his condition. But it will leave you with more questions than answers.