For decades there has been a back-and-forth exchange of creative influences between Hollywood and Hong Kong. John Woo was heavily influenced by Sam Peckinpah, and in turn Woo's The Killer and Hardboiled helped rewrite the book on how action was presented in Hollywood films. For a long time, this relationship of Hong Kong influencing Hollywood and vice versa was limited primarily to loving homages and unabashed rip-offs, but seldom did it manifest in legitimate remakes. Perhaps the best known example of a remake is Martin Scorsese's The Departed, which had been made earlier in Hong Kong as Infernal Affairs. The Departed and Infernal Affairs served as a great example of how Hollywood could take an exceptional film from Hong Kong, and do it justice. Now, Hong Kong has taken a not-so-exceptional film, the 2004 action thrill Cellular, and turned it into the much better Connected.
Barbie Hsu stars as Grace Wong, a single mother and electronic engineer working for a toy designer. For reasons unknown, Grace is kidnapped by a sadistic gang that wants something her brother has. She is taken to a remote shack, where she is held captive, but thanks to her engineering skills, she is able to put a smashed telephone back together. Although she can't actually dial the phone, she is able to get it to dial randomly, which is how she connects with Bob (Louis Koo). A single father himself, Bob is something of a loser. He works for a collections agency, and he hasn't been much of a father to his young son, who is getting ready to leave for boarding school in Australia. At first Bob thinks Grace's call is a prank, but he soon comes to believe her, and finds himself racing around the city trying to keep her young daughter from harm. Meanwhile, disgraced cop Fai (Nick Cheung) crosses paths with Bob, and though he doesn't believe him initially, the former detective begins to realize that there is something suspicious going on. As Bob desperately tries to save Grace and her daughter from certain death, he is also trying to make it to the airport to see his son off, knowing the boy can't handle another disappointment.
In its earlier incarnation, Cellular was a mildly entertaining movie, but to be honest, many of the film's details have long since slipped from my memory. I do recall that it was not so exceptionally entertaining that I wanted to see it again. By contrast to the version of Cellular that exists in my faulty memory, Connected is a superior film. In the original film, Chris Pine played something of a slacker, whereas Koo plays more of a sadsack failure. The film early on establishes Bob as a man of good intention who nonetheless has a bad reputation of being a disappointment. This makes the character more torn about the decisions he must make throughout the film, which in turn gives Connected more of an emotional depth.
Connected also works better than Cellular with its impressive action sequences, especially an extended chase sequence where Bob pursues the gang after they've abducted Grace's daughter. Not much of a fan of car chases, it is still hard not to be entertained by this high speed demolition derby. The rest of the action is equally impressive, but it is interesting to note that the action, while certainly over-the-top, is much more toned down than the Hong Kong movies of the 1990s. Films like Hardboiled took the action and violence of Hong Kong cinema to unreal heights, but in recent years there has been a move to something a bit less hyperbolic. Yes, the action is still big and bombastic, but it is definitely toned down in a way. But that is not a bad thing, as it keeps Connected a bit more grounded in reality, as opposed to a fantasy world of hyper violence.
Connected is one of the better Hong Kong action thrillers to come out in the last few years. It moves at a quick pace, maintains a great sense of tension, and builds a strong relationship between Bob and Grace, which is especially impressive since physically they are only in one scene together. Director Benny Chan has amassed a solid list of credits, including New Police Story and Gen-X Cops, which seem to have been building up to Connected, a very entertaining film that establishes him as one of the best filmmakers currently working in Hong Kong.