Wednesday, 6 October 2010

DVD review - 'Connected'

For Grace Wong (Barbie Hsu), what starts out like an average ordinary weekday morning quickly turns into a waking nightmare. Shortly after dropping off her daughter at school, she finds herself rammed off the road, forcibly removed from her car and kidnapped by a bunch of unsavoury criminal types lead by a silver-haired snake in traffic cop shades, polo neck and beret. No explanation is given for the abduction other than that the bad guys want her brother, and are prepared to do the unspeakable to make him co-operate. But there's one thing the kidnappers didn't count on: Grace is an electronics whizz, and in the room in which she is incarcerated she is able to re-assemble the shattered remains of a telephone and get a signal out to a random telephone number. The number she happens to reach is the mobile phone of Bob (Louis Koo), a down-on-his-luck single dad with a tendency to screw things up. Naturally on hearing a total stranger beg for help he's inclined to dismiss it as a prank call, but once circumstances convince him otherwise, Bob realises it's time to put his screwing-up days behind him and, for once in his life, make good on a promise.

In case you're thinking any of this sounds at all familiar, you're right - this story has been told on film before, in David R Ellis' Cellular. But, in what the beer adverts of old would say makes a refreshing change, Connected is a rare instance of a Hollywood product being remade by Hong Kong filmmakers, as opposed to the more typical instance of Hollywood remaking every cult hit from overseas. With only a few minor alterations, Benny Chan's film follows the structure of Ellis' original pretty closely, and ultimately winds up every bit as entertaining a potboiler. In fact, all things considered, Chan's may be the stronger film.

The key improvement is almost certainly the casting of the central role. The unwitting hero of Cellular was a college boy, a bit of a slacker but undeniably buff, pretty and charismatic; thankfully Ellis and New Line were smart enough to cast the profoundly likeable and talented Chris Evans, otherwise the character might have wound up grating indeed. Shrewdly, Louis Koo's Bob is a very different guy: an unkempt, uncharismatic thirtysomething Joe Bloggs, divorced, stuck in a dead-end job, his relationship with his son rapidly going down the drain. As such, when this long-time loser decides it's time to stand up and fight for what's right, his actions carry that much more resonance, and it all serves to make the character that much easier to relate to. An HK film this may be, but it's no wire-fu fightfest or heroic bloodshed gun ballet; Bob is just an ordinary guy doing what he can, and Koo does a great job.

Also notably different is the abductee: in many respects a far cry from Kim Basinger's married, middle-aged high school science teacher, Barbie Hsu's Grace is a younger, widowed single mother and a professional engineer of some sort. In making both her and Bob single parents of similar age, one might anticipate hints of romantic tension between the two; another potential motivator for his willingness to help. But in truth this is barely developed; outside of a fairly throwaway moment towards the end there is little or no indication of romantic possibility between them. In any case, Hsu is given as little to do as Basinger was, but as with her predecessor she manages to do a good enough job with what is given to her.

Then we have Nick Cheung and Liu Ye taking over the roles of William H Macy's good cop and Jason Statham's bad cop respectively. Cheung doesn't bring quite the same unassuming, quasi-Colombo quality that Macy brought to it, but gives a nicely understated turn nonetheless; much like Koo, he's not a hero, just a guy doing his job. At the other end of the spectrum in every sense is Ye. Dressed like a 70's hitman and exuding rehearsed menace every moment he's on screen, it's a highly mannered performance that's within spitting distance of camp; all good fun, but rather breaks the verisimilitude. However, for all his excess Ye is nowhere near as bothersome as the horrendously OTT American villians. What is it with English speaking characters in HK movies? Why do they always aim for Charles Bronson but come off more Widow Twankey? 

Naturally, Cheung and Fan also handle the lion's share of the ass-kicking, and while as previously stated this isn't your typical flying fists HK action flick, it's still a slick, stylised animal with some very nice action sequences, in particular the airport-based final showdown and a great car chase that might challenge even The Bourne Identity for the most outrageous stunts pulled in an unlikely choice of automobile.

While it's not sufficiently different to Cellular to warrant massive excitement, Connected is nonetheless a hugely enjoyable thriller that's well worth a watch, and as good a representation as any as to why Benny Chan is one of the most celebrated directors working in China today. (On which note, be on the lookout for a further Benny Chan review soon here at Ka-Boomski, as I'll soon be taking a well overdue look at his recent Region 2 DVD release Invisible Target.)

Connected is available now on Region 2 from Cine-Asia; to order from Amazon UK, click here. Alternatively for the Region 1 release, click here. 

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