Tragic tale of lonely desperation

Aaron Kwok (centre) plays quirky Chong Sir with salt-and- pepper hair and a kendama toy.
Aaron Kwok (centre) plays quirky Chong Sir with salt-and- pepper hair and a kendama toy.PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

REVIEW / CRIME DRAMA

PORT OF CALL (R21)

98 minutes/Opens tomorrow/3 stars

THE STORY: Teenager Jiamei (Jessie Li)is the victim in a gruesome and bloody murder in a Hong Kong tenement. The cop investigating the case is Chong Sir (Aaron Kwok). Things seem to be open-and-shut when van driver Ting (Michael Ning) confesses to the crime, but Chong continues to dig deeper into the case.

A horrific murder is the start of this crime drama. But writer-director Philip Yung (who co-wrote the Golden Horse-nominated 2013 horror flick Rigor Mortis) is not interested in a straightforward whodunit.

Like the South Korean film The Chaser (2008), the identity of the killer is revealed fairly early, after which Yung delves into the lives of the key players rather than playing up the tabloid sensationalism of a murder involving dismembered body parts.

But those who are squeamish about blood and violence should be warned that he does not shy away from graphic depictions of the butchering.

Jiamei's tale is a tragic one as she moves from Dongguan in Guangdong, China, to live with her mother and sister in Hong Kong and ends up becoming a prostitute in secret so that she can make more money.

Ting's story is one of lonely desperation as well, although his explosive temper immediately raises a red flag for audiences.

Newcomers Jessie Li and Michael Ning are well cast in the lead roles and were both nominated for Best New Performer at the Golden Horse Awards. The film had nine nominations and one win - for Best Supporting Actor for Ning.

Kwok might have been in the running for Best Actor once again, but his portrayal of the quirky Chong feels a little too calculated with his salt-and-pepper hair and kendama toy.

The movie is also hurt by jerky pacing as it moves back and forth constantly between the present and flashbacks, making it harder to get into the flow of the story.

At least, after all the digging around by Chong, there is, cathartically, more than meets the eye in the case, making Ting's murder confession chilling, stomach- turning and also unbearably sad.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2016, with the headline 'Tragic tale of lonely desperation'. Print Edition | Subscribe