Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Kelvin Tong's Rule #1 (2008)
I've never been a fan of Ekin Cheng. Joe Ma's Feel 100% (1996) and Feel 100%...Once More (1996) were enjoyable alternatives to HK gun play and martial arts, and this Western twenty-something enjoyed them very much, where Cheng was part of a wonderfully talented ensemble cast. Cheng would take the lead in the massively-popular Young and Dangerous (1996), helmed by massively-popular Andrew Lau, and appear in its massively-popular sequels. I cannot claim to be a fan of the series. I identified more with Jordan Chan's character from Young and Dangerous and became a fan of his work and followed him. Alongside Aaron Kwok and Sonny Chiba, Cheng would make one of the worst HK films that I have ever witnessed, Andrew Lau's The Storm Riders (1998), which was enough for me to shelf HK films for a while and go looking in other countries for entertainment. I never, however, completely abandoned HK cinema, because film makers, like Johnnie To, were still making exciting flicks, such as his cat-and-mouse, action thriller Running Out of Time (1999), starring the very talented Ching-wan Lau and Andy Lau. To would make a sequel (basically a remake of the first): Running Out of Time 2 (2001) with Ching-wan Lau returning and Cheng in the Andy Lau role. A cursory glance at both, back to back, shows where the real acting talent resides. With his appearance in Danny Pang's dreadful Forest of Death (2007), I was ready to write-off Cheng as an extremely handsome, charismatic, and completely wooden actor, lacking any depth or bringing any substance to any role. When I start to make cinematic rules for myself, however, I want to start breaking them immediately. When Kelvin Tong's Rule #1 (2008), starring Cheng and Shawn Yue, became available, I picked it up. However, I'm pretty sure I'll never watch a Storm Riders remake, if it happens. In Rule #1, Yue plays Lee, a young cop working the beat. One evening in a parking garage, Lee stops a speeder and cites the speeder for not wearing his seat belt. Cut me a break, says the speeder, I'm late for my son's birthday party. Lee steps aside to let the man drive on but stops him again. The tail light on his vehicle is out, and Lee asks him to pop the trunk. Noticing that there is blood coming from the trunk's seal and the trunk pops open, revealing a corpse, Lee unclasps his pistol. However the driver is faster with his pistol and kneecaps Lee. The driver, now maniacal, stands over the wounded Lee, firing shots in his other joints, such as his elbows, in preparation to give him the final bullet. Out of the open trunk pops the corpse, distracting the driver, and Lee shoots the driver in the head. Lee, after a lengthy recovery, returns to work. Check this report of the parking garage incident, says his superior, and see if there are any changes that need to be made. No changes are necessary: Lee is not wavering that he saw a bloody corpse rise up from the trunk. Perhaps because of this admission, Lee gets reassigned to the "Miscellaneous Affairs Division," appropriately located through a door in a garbage-strewn alley. Inside, Lee meets a man in a wheelchair, who says nothing but gives him a piece of paper, telling Lee that it's his first assignment. Lee arrives at a public swimming pool, where an old man tells him that since the drowning death of a little girl about a month ago, everyone has been hearing these loud moans coming from the building. Lee checks the location and finds only his new boss, Wong (Cheng), who says get to work, rookie. A bunch of hair is clogging the pool's filter, perhaps the cause for the wailing sound inside the building. Hong Kong police receive about a hundred and eighty-five calls a day, says Wong, and one hundred and eighty of them, robbery, murder, kidnapping, and the like, are handled by Hong Kong police. About five of those calls, a day, are unexplained, like mysterious noises and bizarre phenomena, which the "Miscellaneous Affairs Division" handles. Just remember Rule #1 cautions Wong: there are no ghosts.I had only previously seen Kelvin Tong's supernatural The Maid (2005). While The Maid wasn't overall completely satisfying, Tong made an interesting film which had both creepy supernatural sequences combined with some very human touches. He succeeds and improves on this dichotomy in Rule #1. A truly creepy sequence involving a laughing young girl, who is hanging herself, gets juxtaposed with cute sequences involving a young delivery girl on a bicycle, who becomes Cheng's only friend and confidante. Tong smartly adds romantic subplots to both Yue and Cheng's characters, giving the film an emotional depth and richness to the characters. Around the forty-minute mark, Tong introduces a very unexpected and well-handled sequence, which really launches Rule #1 into its thriller plot line. Nearly all of the supernatural and action sequences of Rule #1 are exciting and very well-done, especially a sequence at a school. Shawn Yue is an up-and-coming HK actor, whose previous performance in Pou-Soi Cheang's Shamo (2007) was appropriately icy and nasty. Like Cheng, Yue is extremely good looking yet, more often than not, mostly wooden. Yue is good in Rule #1, like Brad Pitt's character in David Fincher's Seven (1995), and Yue plays Lee as not-to-sharp, impulsive, and passionate. As for Cheng's performance, my hat has to go off to him, but I'm not ready to start throwing dollar bills at him anytime soon. Cheng's Wong is an alcoholic in the film and Cheng, seemingly, put on about fifteen to twenty pounds or so for the role. I suppose that's as far as his vanity will allow him to go. Cheng labors through his only Pacino-like speech in the film and while it didn't move me to tears, Cheng did the best that he could. This role is a good change of pace for Cheng, and in the comedic and human touches that Tong provides in the film, Cheng shines.I love a good thriller, and Rule #1 delivers on this front. Tong also provides enough creative flourishes to elevate Rule #1 above most recent thrillers. I've grown a little closer to Ekin Cheng through Rule #1, and I'm glad that I broke that recent rule about him.