After a string of scene-stealing supporting roles, a bleach blond Zhang Jin takes the lead in Jonathan Li's The Brink, as a renegade Hong Kong cop on the trail of Shawn Yue’s villainous gold smuggler. Featuring a string of impressively staged action sequences that often stretch the bounds of plausibility, The Brink remains entertaining despite some glaring narrative flaws and wildly inconsistent performances.
After hurling a suspect out of a building, only to unwittingly kill a fellow officer in the process, Hong Kong police detective Chang (Zhang Jin) narrowly avoids a manslaughter charge. Instead, he takes legal guardianship of his dead suspect’s daughter (Cecilia So), convinces his partner A-de (Wu Yue) not to retire, and goes on the warpath for a gang of gold smugglers operating in Hong Kong harbour - much to the chagrin of his boss (Gordon Lam).
Meanwhile, all is not well amidst the smugglers. When Jiang (Shawn Yue) is double-crossed by the rest of the gang (including a delightfully slimy Derek Tsang), he takes them out himself, and goes gunning for the big Boss (Yasuaki Kurata), with Janice Man’s loyal squeeze in tow.
What follows a pretty relentless barrage of action and melodrama, as Chang and Jiang are set on a collision course for each other, taking on all comers in the process. And when fists are flying, vehicles are exploding, or characters are tearing round the city after each other, Li Chung Chi’s action choreography certainly delivers.
The Brink features an exhilarating foot chase a top the moored boats in Aberdeen harbour, and another through a crowded indoor fish market, made all the more hazardous by Janice Man tossing exploding water bottles at her pursuers. There are a couple of lengthy underwater sequences in the film’s second half that are also a rare sight in a Hong Kong movie.
When characters pause for breath, however, the film proves less successful. Zhang Jin and Wu Yue are both dubbed into Cantonese, and their characters’ motivations range from the perplexing to the implausible. The precise nature of Chang’s relationship to his young charge is never quite made clear - and could be seen as morally, if not legally questionable. Meanwhile, A-De’s motivations and loyalties swing wildly from one extreme to the other as the script sees fit, with the only constant being his sizeable gambling debts to an unseen gang.
Far better is Shawn Yue’s emotionally complex smuggler. Sporting tattoos, shabby pirate chic garb, and a pocket harpoon gun he uses to dispatch his enemies, Jiang is clearly the film’s most well conceived character. Even when his motivations extend little beyond an unerring quest for gold, he retains that glimmer of conflicted honour so beloved in Hong Kong antiheroes. His complicated relationship with the always feisty Janice Man adds another layer to his malevolent charm.
As a first feature, there is a lot to enjoy in Jonathan Li’s debut. Li has worked for years as assistant director to Soi Cheang (who serves as a producer here) and writer-directors Alan Mak and Felix Chong, and the film’s technical competency attests to this experience. Li’s inexperience working with actors to shape their performances is equally evident, but The Brink captures enough of the energy and carefree enthusiasm of Hong Kong’s action classics to suggest Li has a promising career ahead of him.
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