At The Movies

Noir-inspired thriller visually stunning, but story falls apart

English actor Jason Statham (above) plays an alpha male anti-hero in the action thriller Wrath Of Man.
English actor Jason Statham (above) plays an alpha male anti-hero in the action thriller Wrath Of Man.PHOTO: ENCORE FILMS

PRECIOUS IS THE NIGHT

M18, 80 minutes, now showing

Rating: 4/5

This thriller marks the feature film debut of several people.

Taiwanese Wayne Peng, an award-winning commercial director and maker of the notable dance docu-drama Burning Dreams (2003), makes an entrance here, while cast members Singaporean Chuando Tan and Taiwanese Nanyeli launch their acting careers with this project.

As launchpads go, it would be hard to think of a better project for people with modelling backgrounds. The story calls for Tan and Nanyeli to look gorgeous, a feat they achieve easily, while the camera takes in their breathtaking profiles - the crisp perfection of her qipao or the rumpled sensuousness of his white shirt, unbuttoned just so.

It would have been fine if Singapore-based writer-director Peng had sought to make a fun, light confection of a movie with the aesthetics and magazine-style visuals seen here.

The modelling reality show phrase, "I'm moving away from catalogue shoots and into editorial spreads", is likely to pop into your head when you are watching the movie.

But there was a creative choice - take a deep breath now - to make this a noir-inspired period psychological thriller with erotic overtones and an open-ended narrative style. And that is where things fall apart.

In the late 1960s, Tan is an unnamed writer struggling to turn a true-crime case into a story. This unreliable narrator framing device sets up the story-within-a-story, in which Tan, playing another character, the pleasure-seeking Dr Tan, makes house calls to see Madam Ku Yang (Nanyeli) and attends to her needs in more ways than one.

She is the kept woman of a tycoon. The doctor's sessions - which include him reading to her from Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert's 1856 novel of passion and yearning - offer a brief escape.

Living in the same starkly beautiful modernist mansion, composed of pure straight lines and sinuous staircases, are two maids (played by Taiwan's Chang Tsu-lei and Singapore's Chen Yixin). They are in their own ways seduced by the magnetic Dr Tan, setting the stage for tragedy.

There is some qipao-shedding and necktie-ripping, with Tan briefly showing his full sculpted body from the rear (surely men in the 1960s knew not of low-carb diets), followed by moody cigarette smoking and Flaubert reciting.

Instead of showing skin, Peng prefers that the sensuality comes from the cinematography - shallow focus, dramatic lighting, studied composition as well as close-ups of lips, eyes and Tan's rippling torso.

Visually, this movie is stunning, but one wishes this unruly mix of lust, literary allusions and lurid crime tale had a story to match.

WRATH OF MAN

M18, 119 minutes, now showing

Rating: 2/5

This pulse-racing action thriller showcases British film-maker Guy Ritchie at his Guy Ritchie-st.

The maker of movies about bad men who look virtuous because those around them are worse is back with another fist-and-firearms spectacular featuring his favoured tough guy, Jason Statham. The English actor, as in other Ritchie projects (crime thrillers Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, 1998; Snatch, 2000; and Revolver, 2005) does most of his acting here with furrowed brows and flying feet.

The movie opens with a mystery. "H" (Statham), as he is nicknamed by his colleagues at a Los Angeles armoured car security company, is a new hire who is foreign to their world, and not just because he comes from across the pond.

His American buddies suspect that the steel-clad four-wheelers are merely vehicles (pun intended) for a deeper mission, one that the tight-lipped limey will not disclose.

Ritchie has adapted the 2004 French movie Cash Truck here. I have not seen the source film, but it matters little because Ritchie has his stamp everywhere.

There is the scowling Statham, an alpha male anti-hero making others bend to his amoral will, the rock and R&B soundtrack, and gun battles staged like music videos.

The cringey juvenile side of Ritchie is apparent, too, in how women are programmed to be disposable sexual trophies for the meanest man in the room. Ritchie has skills as a film-maker, but making women behave normally is not one of them. He managed to shrug off the title of "movie-maker for the lads" with his live-action remake of Disney's Aladdin (2019), but here, for better and for worse, that label makes a return.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HONG KONG

PG 13, 106 minutes, now showing

Not reviewed

In this crime thriller set in the 1970s, a crooked cop (played by Francis Ng) and a gangster (Tony Leung Ka-fai) have the city's judiciary eating out of their hands.

But an honest policeman (Louis Koo) enters the picture and puts into action a plan to eradicate corruption from every level of the force.

SUPERDEEP

NC16, 115 minutes, now showing

Not reviewed

In this Russian work of horror, a team of scientists descend into the abyss to investigate when strange noises are heard emanating from a closed former Soviet research station, located in one of the deepest points in the ocean.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2021, with the headline 'Noir-inspired thriller visually stunning, but story falls apart'. Subscribe