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Heavenly Mission

Tai Seng // Unrated // July 24, 2007
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted August 24, 2007 | E-mail the Author
Heavenly Mission feels like a large melting pot of crime film influence, both native to Hong Kong and American roots. And, for a flick with so much influence, it ends up a bit better than expected. We're working with an enveloping protagonist counterbalance between the police and the criminals, similar to Michael Mann's Heat. However, Heavenly Mission is infused with both positive and negative flair in aesthetics and textual content that simultaneously make it more intriguing and less engaging than others in its genre.

The Film:

Rough and tumble gangster Yip Chow (Ekin Cheung) has been recently released from prison after an eight (8) year stint, poised for a return to the life. While locked up, he's concentrated his focus inward, reading books and pensively developing as a person. Once released, he has a new agenda - to support charities and noble causes with large sums of cash flow. As he ventures back into his regular environment doing an astronomically uncharacteristic deed, his entourage absorbs him as normal while the police force monitors his every move. Something isn't sitting right with this benevolent turn, and it's up to the police superintendent (Alex Fong) to dig up the contingency looming underneath.

No matter how smart the police officers' moves are, there's an uncomfortably disparate tension in their efforts while pleasure is to be found in the gang's sly moves. One element, the wild card revolting presence of renegade apprentice Gwai Jai (Stephen Fung), keeps a tense pace in the criminal underbelly that throws Yip Chow off guard. Still, the marginal empathy and concentration packed within this flick tips towards the primary "bad guys", especially our scholarly, pacifistic ex-convict.

In fact, his presence is the only differentiation in plot that sets Heavenly Mission away from the pack. Waiting to see how he is going to play his cards makes the film much more interesting than it should've been. Seeing how he stoicly reacts to situations, his development after his stint in prison and other little eccentricities, like the way he interacts with a blind masseur in an elevator, give the film a compelling air. Intrigue can be found and invested within his character, which keeps the rest of the unfurling activities hinged upon a strong base.

It also doesn't hurt that the photography for Heavenly Mission is splendid, either. There's a whole mess of rich colors and textures scattered throughout that keep your eyes entertained. Lots of neon and glowing lights help the film plug along for pure eye candy. I thoroughly enjoyed the impressive photography squeezed into this, even if there's much more grandeur in its still shots than in motion. It has to stomach passed some grossly bothersome editing to stand visually acute. Rapid-fire clipping from scene to scene finds effectiveness in other efforts, but not used to the extent that it is used in Heavenly Mission. Several images really grabbed me and then, before I could fully enjoy their duration, they chopped to another visual, and another, and another inside a horribly blitzed time frame. However, this isn't the case with every single shot in the film. Several expansive shots, including a few panning sweeps across a beautiful sports car and several shrines across town, utterly pop with vivid detail and ravishing color during their very welcome time on the screen.

It's a shame that the rest of this sumptuous HK action film teeters along as nothing more than an average distraction. Once we swallow down the reasoning behind our villainous hero's philanthropy and get accustomed to his revamped demeanor, the rest of Heavenly Mission just clicks and sputters along like many others in its class. Like clockwork, everything falls into place just as can be imagined. Maneuver after maneuver leans towards strong influence from films like Hard Boiled and Infernal Affairs, sharing similar outcomes that its superiors accomplish with more panache. One thing that did catch my eye was the use of journalists and newspapers to police benefit in Heavenly Mission. It portrays the vulture's nature of photographers and our digestion of the recent news as strongly determining factors in status quo for the villains.

Even though it kept me mildly interested, there's way too much talk going on and not enough of the good stuff, a la tense action sequences and affective plot twists. The developments underneath this context make for a compelling turn of events, but end up getting lost within a net of rambling chattiness. Enough adrenaline is evident in the film; however, you'd be hard pressed to see it through the cookie-cutter dialog exchanges and waning focus on the story's development. Aside from its visual achievement, everything else is entertaining and tightly formulated, but forgettable and disposable. Those really aren't terrible things, but more of the setbacks that keep Heavenly Mission grounded from being a film that rises into the stratosphere of prominence in its genre. Instead, it's almost as much fun as its competition with just a little added spice.

The DVD:

Heavenly Mission comes loaded from Tai Seng Entertainment in a standard keepcase DVD.

The Video:

Heavenly Mission sports a mean 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation that blasts the screen with immense detail. To get the negatives out of the way, there is some pixilation, mosquito noise, and a few minor print flaws evident in the transfer. Outside of this, Heavenly Mission looks outstanding. Textures, like marble within the floor and details within sculpture's faces, shine with stringent depth. Most importantly, each and every lurid color seeps onto the screen with rich brevity. Though it has a few minor flaws, Heavenly Mission is wholly satisfying in the visual department.

The Audio:

Presented in a Cantonese DTS track, Heavenly Mission is ... well, loud. No really, very loud. It took downshifting the volume on my receiver a good 3 or 4 decibels to get it at normal listening level. Once this minor correction was made, everything sounded just fine. Most prominent in this audio track are voices and sporadic ambient effects. The aural design is very nice, working out the surrounds with everything including minor effects like cellular phone rings. Most prominent, however, is the kitschy music sweeping across the film. Filled with techno thumping rhythms and reverberations, this ambience melds well with the visual points of the film. The Dolby track also harnesses some of the same penetrative elements, but not nearly to the same level as the DTS track. A 2.0 Stereo presentation is also available in Mandarin. Heavenly Mission sounds just as good as it looks. Subtitles are available in English, as well as Traditional and Simplified Chinese options.

The Extras:

- Behind The Scenes of Heavenly Mission -
We're working with about 13 minutes of generic insight here. You've got all the component players giving little glimmers of interest about their characters, as well as the director stating his reasoning behind the creation of his film. Most of it hinges on predictable answers, but still captures the filmmakers discussing their participation. There are also little glimmers of humor in the piece that make the 13 minutes a relatively fun 13 minutes, but not terribly insightful.

Also, an Original Hong Kong trailer is included that, in typical fashion, gives away more than it should. Save it for after the viewing.


Final Thoughts:

Heavenly Mission ends up as a wholly digestible, marginally engaging, and outright unmemorable crime caper. The two things that save the film from completely disappearing into the sea of mediocrity are the dynamic persona of Yip Chow and a stunning visual presentation. However, aesthetics and a solitary intrigue aren't enough when surrounded by a laundry list of commonplace accomplishments. Nonetheless, with this audio and video prowess amidst this decent HK flick, you can do much worse than Heavenly Mission. I mildly Recommend it, purely because it'll probably be difficult to give this one a rent. The musical and visual strength is enough to barely pour over the edge for a purchase.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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