Slickly made but draggy and predictable, Divergence (San cha kou, 2005) is a typically violent and downbeat Hong Kong crime melodrama that delivers just enough action for undemanding fans of the genre, but it's also instantly forgettable and sloppily written. Tartan's two-disc DVD, carrying over most of the extra features from the Hong Kong release, is likewise slickly done, with a superb 16:9 transfer with excellent sound. Unfortunately, the review copy we received had ruinous subtitle issues that the label is apparently scrambling to fix.
The film's English title is inapt, to say the least. The more accurately descriptive Cantonese title translates to "Three-Way Junction," referring to the moderately ambitious premise that brings together three characters that at first seem utterly disconnected. The film stars Aaron Kwok as Suen Siu-yan, a policeman haunted by memories of a fiancee who disappeared without a trace ten years before. (Suen also was the host of a popular Cops-type TV series, Police Voice, though typical of the film's meandering, confused script Suen's fame plays no real role in the story.)
Accompanying a government witness back to Hong Kong from Canada, Suen crosses paths with Coke (Daniel Wu), a high-priced sniper-for-hire who assassinates Suen's corpulent charge moments after they leave the airport. The murdered man was to testify against Yiu Ting-chun (Gallen Law), a millionaire money launderer represented by attorney To Hou-sung (Ekin Cheng). Investigating his witness's murder, Suen's onetime financee, Amy (gorgeous Angelica Lee) mysteriously turns up (or does she?) happily married to To. Elated yet agonized to find his great love married to an unethical barrister, Suen begins stalking the family for answers.
Meanwhile, Yiu's pop star son is kidnapped, apparently at the hands of his gangland superiors, who have been pressuring Yiu to surrender the laundered money, assets the government has frozen pending Yiu's trial.
Between the usual adrenaline-charged, high-octane action sequences, which empower the leads with superhuman strength and endurance, the moody film devotes much time to Suen's increasingly irrational behavior, such as one sequence where, suicidal, he allows his car to roll backwards down a steep incline, where it's repeatedly creamed by other vehicles. Suen spends a lot of time weeping or on the verge of tears, including one unintentionally funny moment where he breaks down while stuffing himself with a McDonalds Fillet 'O Fish sandwich.
Coke, meanwhile, plays the usual world-weary, honorable assassin whose girlfriend-agent Ting (Jing Ning) offers great sex while the two are constantly on the verge of double-crossing one another. Meanwhile, To battles demons of his own, defending slimy gangsters he knows are guilty while trying to maintain an idealized family life.
Divergence is as well-produced as any Hollywood thriller, but its screenplay is generally uninvolving and, at the end, predictable yet infuriatingly absurd and unsatisfying. The action scenes are generally exciting and well done, but action set pieces do not a movie make.
Video & Audio
Tartan's Divergence is presented in a stunning 16:9 transfer of unusual clarity. The image is so sharp and the color pallet so varied that watching it you may have second thoughts about buying that Blu-Ray/HD-DVD player after all. The audio is equally impressive, with Cantonese tracks in 5.1 DTS, 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby Digital. Disc 1 also features an audio commentary with director Benny Chan that's subtitled.
However, the disc we received has English subtitles (Spanish subtitles are also available) that lag about six seconds behind the dialogue, and this proved enormously frustrating. One character finishes a line of dialogue, there's a pause, the other character would start speaking and the subtitle for the previous speaker's line would belatedly appear. During scenes where several characters are yelling at one another in quick succession, this reviewer lost all track of who was screaming what at whom.
According to Tartan's website, "If you recently purchased the [DVD] and are experiencing a synchronization issue with the subtitle track on Disc 1, we would like to send you a free replacement disc. Simply send the original Chapter Selections paper insert (which will serve as your proof of purchase) to: TARTAN VIDEO USA, 8322 BEVERLY BLVD, SUITE 300, LOS ANGELES CA 90048, ATTN: DIVERGENCE. We will send you a replacement Disc 1 and a new Chapter Selections insert. We take extreme pride in the quality of our product and we thank you for the opportunity to correct this matter."
Beyond the aforementioned commentary track, all of the supplements are located on the set's second disc. Included are fairly standard Hong Kong publicity-type videos, including the usual Making Of featurette and brief footage of the Gala Premiere. Also included are trailers for other Tartan Asian Extreme releases. There's not really enough material here to justify an entire second disc, especially since the movie itself isn't all that special to begin with.
A general blandness hangs over Divergence, a superficial, mechanical thriller with nothing to recommend it beyond its polished action scenes.
Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's most recent essays appear in Criterion's new three-disc Seven Samurai DVD and BCI Eclipse's The Quiet Duel.