- RatedNC16 /GenreDrama, Romance, War
We miss the old John Woo.
This is the man from Hong Kong who, in the early ’90s, revolutionised the action movie.
The tightly choreographed gunfights in his films ‘A Bullet in the Head’, ‘Hard Boiled’ and ‘The Killer’ have been recreated many times but never equalled by his peers.
Woo succeeded in isolating sequences such as the big shootout in Sam Peckinpah’s ‘The Wild Bunch’ and drawing them out into a graceful ballet of blood, birds and explosions.
Hollywood was awed and it beckoned. The director then went westward and created a series of action films through the 1990s, starting with ‘Hard Target’, reaching an artistic peak with the brilliant and demented ‘Face/Off’, and then a commercial high in Tom Cruise’s ‘Mission: Impossible II’.
ANOTHER HISTORICAL EPIC
Tong Dawei and Zhang Ziyi in 'The Crossing'. Photo: Shaw Organisation
The John Woo we used to know is the master of the tight, amped-up action film – but the legendary filmmaker has been leaning towards bloated historical romances since leaving Hollywood back to Asia, making the surprisingly brilliant two-part ‘Red Cliff’ in 2008 and 2009.
His taste for such epics has not waned with his new movie ‘The Crossing’ – the first of a two-part feature – which stars Takeshi Kaneshiro and Zhang Ziyi, among others.
The screenplay is by Wang Huiling, who previously co-wrote ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ and who adapted ‘Lust, Caution’.
Set against the upheavals of revolutionary China in 1949, ‘The Crossing’ tells of three couples from different backgrounds who make a fateful voyage on a ship as they flee China for Taiwan.
Dubbed the “Chinese Titanic”, the movie is a strange amalgamation of genres – romance, war, drama, action, it is unsure of what it wants to be.
Three men at the centre of the plot are General Lei (Huang Xiaoming), who leads the Chinese army to victory against the Japanese; a Taiwanese doctor Yan Zekun (Takeshi Kaneshiro), who works for the Japanese army; and Sergeant Tong Daqing (Tong Dawei), who takes the doctor prisoner.
After the war, the three men go their separate ways. Lei returns to Shanghai and marries debutante Zhou Yunfen (Song Hye-kyo), while Yan discovers that his sweetheart Noriko (Masami Nagasawa) has been deported to Japan.
When civil war breaks out, Sergeant Tong crosses paths with a nurse Yu Zhen (Zhang Ziyi), and so begins a convoluted story of heartbreak, desperation, loyalty and brothers against brothers.
As grandiose as it is, the movie feels contrived, and the emotional core lacks substance.
Narratives and sub-plots jump in and out awkwardly and never settle in, making it quite an incoherent mess.
The incidents and stories are too protracted and the pacing is excruciating slow, even for a two-hour sitting. This is certainly far removed from the style of the virtuoso who gave us ‘Red Cliff’, an epic that was by far a more enjoyable watch.
Even with Zhang playing her typical hapless waif or Kaneshiro channelling his charisma as Yan, no character or star stand out in ‘The Crossing’ – although Chinese actor Tong does provide some comic relief as the loyal sergeant.
Takeshi Kaneshiro plays Dr Yan Zekun. Photo: Shaw Organisation
The action scenes, though, are noteworthy. But of course, where else would Woo show his dexterity but in these?
The battle scenes that bookend the movie are stunning, and its epic ambitions are realised with a cast supported by thousands of virtual extras.
Woo directs the fights with the same kind of frenetic and brisk style that made his name: from the sweeping camera cranes and careful choreography to the split-second editing. Watch for the scene with the exploding rocket launchers.
His trademark fluttering doves do make a comeback here, but we won’t spoil the fun.
Tong Dawei's Sergeant Tong (left) provides comic relief in the movie. Photo: Shaw Organisation
Woo’s cinematic touches are still there, in particular the slow-motion cinematography, the sweeping camera shots, tight close-ups on the eyes, and forced schmaltz.
Perhaps the best moment in the movie is when Sergeant Tong and another soldier come face-to-face with an enemy soldier at gunpoint. The Mexican-standoff is a cheeky break amid the chaos.
The ending with a rousing cliffhanger hints at what is to come in the second part, but inevitably, the audience will feel like it is an incomplete film.
Expectations will be high for ‘The Crossing 2’ to serve up the big climax and promptly tie the movie together into a neat package.
Nevertheless, the movie's star power will still be enough to make it a winner at the box office.
‘The Crossing’ opens 4 December 2014