Black Ransom Review: This is resolutely and unashamedly generic
Looking for a short synopsis of the Wong Jing-produced cop thriller Black Ransom? How about “Simon Yam: Jedi Cop”. An even longer description: “Simon Yam vs. Miu Kiu-Wai in Homoerotic Battle of Wits”. Add the bonus proposition, “featuring Gundam in a Donnie Yen-inspired martial arts duel,” and hopefully you’ll get the picture. Despite being ridiculous and borderline trashy. Black Ransom is an entertaining if slight genre picture with the added bonus of being potentially hilarious. Going into Black Ransom expecting Milkyway-quality thrills would be asking waaaaay too much. But if you’re looking for something that’s cheesy, unpretentious and unintentionally amusing then Black Ransom has your back.
Potentially overexposed Simon Yam (Nham Dat Hoa) stars as Brother Mann. A burnt-out cop who leads a team consisting of popstar Vincent Wong (Super Fans) and perennial supporting action star Xing Yu (Kung Fu Hustle, Flash Point). Their team always gets sloppy seconds to a dapper group of detectives led by the super smarmy Tiger (Chan Bo-Yuen). However, new superintendent Koo (TVB star Fala Chen) seems to value Brother Mann, going to his team for extra help in the kidnap case of evil triad Tang Qing (Parkman Wong). The case takes a turn for the worse when the cops learn that their opponent is Sam. A former cop with plenty of issues. His ransom of Tang Qing has roots in old grudges, ex-girlfriends, and routine questions of justice. Speaking for anyone who’s seen at least ten films in this genre, there’s not much new going on here.
What’s new then? How about “the feeling”? Simon Yam’s Brother Mann may be a bit long in the tooth. But he still recalls his days as a kickass marksman. During a pitched battle between Sam’s men and the good guys. Mann grabs a rifle, closes his eyes and searches within his grizzled soul for “the feeling”. An explanation: if Mann gets “the feeling”. He’ll be get a temporary +100% accuracy bonus on his sharpshooter skills. And probably an extra trophy to add to his Xbox Live profile.
Unsurprisingly, “the feeling” comes through, and Sam and Mann soon form a mutual admiration society marred only by the fact that they’re on opposing sides. Their ensuing gentleman’s duel consists of homoerotic one-upmanship. Some shockingly psychic guesswork and a cheesy online chat session that comes dangerously close to cybersex. Who will win? The super-soulful corrupt cop or the rumpled detective who can curve a bullet like that guy in Wanted?
Black Ransom (Tien Chuot Den) was written by super moviemeister Wong Jing. He of the massive filmography and predictable bag of tricks. Wong combines many of his formulaic ideas for this 90 minute action thriller. With an equal amount being effective and laughable. On the effective end, there are some nifty set pieces, decent character types and solid conflicts on display. The laughable stuff: some totally nonsensical characters, huge plot holes, tired clichés, massive coincidences, forgotten subplots, and a pronounced level of coolness that just doesn’t convince. Maybe Brother Mann’s “feeling” is supposed to be compelling, but it’s more giggle-worthy than anything else. Director Keung Kwok-Man doesn’t have the skill to sell his film’s silliness, reducing it to barely B-minus movie fare. If Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai had taken control of Black Ransom. We could have had a real movie on our hands.
However, Keung Kwok-Man does pace his movie efficiently. Such that it breezes by with a modicum of annoyance and an acceptable amount of low-budget charm. Surprisingly, the many subplots don’t weigh down the narrative, and the flashes of action are welcome. The film delivers two face-offs between cop Xing Yu and bad guy Andy On. With their final showdown proving entertaining in an over-choreographed manner that would do Donnie Yen proud.
There’s eye candy too; Wong Jing regular Liu Yang is very easy on the eyes, as is Turning Point’s Fala Chen. Neither they nor the other actors perform in a notable or consistent manner. But that’s to be expected for a film (phim hinh su Hong Kong) with this pedigree. Black Ransom is resolutely and unashamedly generic, and yet still manages to be amusing and harmlessly entertaining. So the “feeling” is just the added ingredient that sends it over the top.