From One Nite in Mongkok to Infernal Affairs, the slick crime thriller has been all the rage in Hong Kong since the film industry took a more commercial/international friendly slant in the mid 90's. Gen X Cops and New Police Story director Benny Chan actually helmed an early, quite good, entry with 1995's Big Bullet. Now, he tries his hand at it again with the aptly titled, Divergence (2005).
The film begins on a predictably creepy, rainy night amidst the urban sprawl and neon glow of the city. A woman is being stalked, but, from out of nowhere, it is her stalker who is garroted by a shadowy figure. The film then slides into its three main, intersecting characters stories, leaving the killer mystery to dangle until the films final act.
Suen Su-yan (Aaron Kwok- 2000 AD, Throw Down) is a fatigued cop escorting a informant who is set to testify in a case against a high powered mogul with money laundering ties to the mob. The caravan is attacked by a sniper, who skillfully picks off and wrecks the cars as well as killing the informant. The hitman, Coke (Daniel Wu- Naked Weapon, New Police Story), was hired by the mogul and mob go-between, Mr Yui.
Mr Yui's main man is his attorney, To Hou-sung (Ekin Chang- Young and Dangerous, The Duel), who handles all of the affairs for his criminal leaning cleint. Yui's troubles aren't over wit the death of the informant, the mob wants their seized cash, Coke wants his payment for the hit, and Mr Yui's pop-star son goes missing, possibly kidnaped.
To Hou-sung's wife, Amy (Angelica Lee- The Eye, Koma), looks remarkably similar to Suen's former flame, a woman who disappeared ten years ago.
It might sound a tad more complicated than it actually is. A haunted cop. A lost love. A missing pop star. A corrupt businessman. An off-kilter hitman. A morally comprised lawyer... And, of course, one of them could be this strangler we saw in the first scene. Divergence slowly becomes convergent as Suen is thrown off the force for the bungled job trying to protect the informant. He goes it alone tracking Yui's dealings, which leads him to To Hou-sung, Amy, and Coke.
The film is a reunion for Stormriders pretty boys Ekin Chang and Aaron Kwok. Kwok fares the best, actually looking like a mature adult rather than a pin-up, though his character is given some terribly melodramatic crying scenes (all of them, oddly enough, while in a car) that grow tedious and borderline laughable. Chang on the other hand barely emotes at all. Angelica Lee's part is pretty marginal and she isn't given much to do. Daniel Wu is also saddled with a character burdened by uneven scenes that make him out to be insane one moment and a really nice guy the next, you know, for the sake of mystery. It is like he was forced to combine the cheesy villan he played in New Police Story with his more nuanced hitman role from One Night in Mongkok.
Benny Chan does direct with flair and panache and keeps the multi-layered plot moving at a very even pace. In terms of action, he delivers a terrific old school foot chase, the best of its kind since Ridley Scott's Black Rain. But, it isn't much of a thrill ride, instead relying on its suspense plot, and keeps the physical action relegated to three scenes, the opening sniper hit, the foot chase, and the finale. Instead, most of the film is Aaron Kwok stalking Angelica Lee and having crying fits in his car.
Unfortunately, the scripting leaves a lot to be desired. Divergence is indeed divergent but it is also hackneyed and convoluted. Scriptwriter Ivy Ho, who also penned Comrades a Love Story and Gorgeous, piles on the mental quirks and downard spiral for every character, heaping it on, until we are left with too much baggage and unsolved threads of mystery to unravel in the finale. It is the kind of script that cannot bear the weight of all of the information it brings up. For instance, a throwaway bit of back story mentions that Suen was a tv star on some police show, so his wrecked nature is compounded by the public always recognizing him as a tv has-been. But, it is never expanded upon and proved to be more interesting than anything else the character did. Coke is another hitman with a heart of gold with a Fallen Angel's-like manager. Adding to the cliches, Suen also gets a full-blown "Turn in your badge!" disgraced cop scene.
Slick production values and some decent performances limited by a flawed script make Divergence not terribly bad but also not terribly original or terribly thrilling.
The DVD: Universe
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. Excellet transfer. Very clean and crisp. The film keeps that modernized look of an Infernal Affairs or Matrix; everything is shot in blue or green tinge under the cast of cold concrete and steel. The color details and grain are lessened and heightened, respectively, in order to keep that urban thriller look. The picture is quite sharp and the contrast displays good, deep black levels.
Sound: Cantonese 5.1 or DTS tracks, or Mandarin 5.1, with optional Chinese (traditional or simplified) or English subtitles. The DTS track sounds much better than the 5.1 which comes across a tad generic for such a new film. Vocals are largely centered, with fx filling out the side channels, and the score, which is always anticipating and pushing the drama too much, is relegated to the back speakers.
The subtitles abound with grammatical mistakes. The translator clearly didn't pass all of his/her English tests. Some examples: "quitted" is used instead of "quit", "comfort" instead of "comfortable", and "lesser" instead of "less." They also go by quite fast in a few spots which required stopping, skipping backwards, and re-reading.
Extras: Slipcase— Commentary by director Benny Chan and actors Aaron Kwok, Ekin Chang, and Daniel Wu. If the subtitle grammar was bad on the actual film, it only gets worse on the commentary which is often borderline comprehensible due to awkward translations.
Disc Two contains— Making Of Featurette (15:13)— Premiere footage (2:08)— Music Video (4:15)— Trailers— Photos— Star bios.— NOTE: None of these extras has English subtitles.
Conclusion: I'm giving this one a hesitant recommended. Okay why am I recommend a film I'm not too keen for with a negligible second disc of extras (negligible not just because they aren't English friendly but pretty brief and rudimentary)? Here is the bottom line- the disc is cheap and the transfer is good. The film reviewer in me says, "rent it" but the DVD reviewer says, "Ehhh, its cheap enough, go ahead and buy it." If you are an HK fan with a nice stack of recent crime flicks, this one will certainly fit well into that collection. Just be warned- you may not be giving it too many spins.