Chinese thriller Chongqing Hotpot delivers a fiery kick to the gut

Chongqing Hotpot stars Qin Hao (left) and Chen Kun.
Chongqing Hotpot stars Qin Hao (left) and Chen Kun.PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE



99 minutes/Opens tomorrow/3.5/5 stars

The story: Old friends Liu Bo (Chen Kun), Xu Dong (Qin Hao) and "Specky" (Yu Entai) run a hotpot restaurant located in a cave in the city of Chongqing. They embark on an unlicensed cave-expansion scheme and end up inside the vault of a nearby bank. The money would come in handy, but they decide to cover up the hole with the help of former classmate Yu Xiaohui (Bai Baihe), an employee of the bank. Then on the day of the repair, the bank is robbed by men in masks.

The hotpot in Chongqing is not for the faint of heart.

It is a potent brew of chilli oil, dried chillies and peppercorns and delivers a fiery kick to the gut.

Its namesake film packs a punch as well. Writer-director Yang Qing (One Night In Supermarket, 2009) has concocted a crime thriller that jumps back and forth in chronology, spiced up with liberal doses of tension, dashes of comedy and unexpectedly tender notes of friendship and romance.

This is also a movie with a strong sense of place. It is set in Chongqing rather than the overexposed Beijing or Shanghai, offering audiences a fresh urban vista for their eyes, as well as the unfamiliar sounds of the Chengdu-Chongqing dialect for their ears.

The cast comprises a competent line-up of actors.

Chen Kun (The Knot, 2006) has not only the looks to coast along in romances, but also has the chops of a character actor. He is the core of this Hotpot, a good-hearted fellow whose penchant for gambling threatens to be his undoing. Will he do the right thing? Or will money drive old friends apart? He makes Liu compelling even with his mug buried beneath bruises, blood streaks and a swollen-shut eye.

Qin Hao (Spring Fever, 2009), meanwhile, has a taste for the good life and might not be the most reliable friend, and Bai Baihe (Monster Hunt, 2015) is the unhappy office worker who makes a critical decision when lives are on the line.

Will things get darker with each turn, or can there be a happy ending?

All the ingredients carefully prepared by Yang - the robbery, the tunnel, the gambling debt - eventually come to a boil in a piquant ending thick with twists and blood.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 13, 2016, with the headline 'Spicy crime thriller hits the right spots'. Subscribe