Essay

Motorway: Film Review

A relentless car chase thriller that ends up feeling less like a Hong Kong version of theFast and Furiousfilms than like an existentialist cousin of Walter Hill'sThe Driver, Motorwaylurches along at first but really shifts into high gear in the second half. Borderline humorous in the way concocts excuses for cops to start chasing bad guys every few minutes, this second collaboration between Macau-born director Soi Cheang and producer Johnnie To, after the thrillerAccidentin 2009, opened in Asia in July and is too strictly genre-oriented to fit the agendas of most Western festivals or foreign film distributors.

The chase that opens the film feel downright clutzy, as two Kowloon auto cops, young speed-freak Chan (Shawn Yue) and seen-it-all veteran Lo (Anthony Wong) fail to apprehend a car that's charging through the streets and highways at an alarming pace. With the pair demoted to speed-gun duty, things poke along for a while until Mainland Chinese gangster Jiang Xin (Guo Xiaodong) gets himself deliberately hauled into jail so he can spring a cohort who will pull a big heist for which he'll be the driver.

For a while, interest flags because there's nothing much at stake and the chases don't produce any real tension. Through the middle section, car talk takes precedence over plot, as Lo tries to pass on some know-how to Chan before the older man's retirement, notably how to make a seemingly impossible turn in the very tight space. Veteran Wong makes the most from very little in building Lo into a fairly interesting character — he seems quite young to be retiring — and Michelle Ye similarly supplies more than required as Lo's wife.

U.S.-born Joey O'Bryan

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co-wrote the script for the 2001 releaseFulltime Killer , which was co-directed by To, and once the story he wrote for this one and then scripted with Szeto Kam-yuen and Francis Fung sharpens its focus, Motorway snaps into place. The action is now nocturnal, it moves from the city to winding roads in the hills, the use of slow-mo increases, as does the ratio of music to talk, there are moments of stillness and an air of moody fatalism descends upon the proceedings that makes the details of the plot seem less important than the fact that the men keep racing their cars, just as surely as the Earth keeps turning. “If you lose your drive, you're worse off than a broken car,” Lo advises his protege; as almost mock-profound as this sounds, it does serve to echo the man-defined-as-action ethos that asserts itself at the end.

Some of the car stuff has a catch-as-catch-can feel, but some sequences are cool and breath-catching, including one in which a car is made to encircle it prey like a boxer might dance while encircling his victim. The cast is solid and it all comes in at under 90 minutes.

Venue: Santa Barbara Film Festival Production: Sil-Metropole Organization, Media Asia Films Cast: Anthony Wong, Shawn Yue, Guo Xiaodong, Gordon Lam, Barbie Hsu, Josie Ho, Michelle Ye, Li Haitao, Li Guangjie Director: Soi Cheang Screenwriters: Joey O'Bryan, Szeto Kam-yuen, Francis Fung, based on an original story by Joey O'Bryan Producer: Johnnie To Executive producers: Song Dai, John Chong Director of photography: Edmond Fung, Kenny Tse Production designer: Simon So Costume designer: Boey Wong Editors: David Richardson, Allen Leung Music: Javier Jamaux, Alex Gopher

86 minutes


Category: Review

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