Divergence (2005) Movie Review

Less an action film than a mild mystery with heavy doses of mental imbalance, Benny Chan’s “Divergence” has more in common with the director’s previous films like “Heroic Duo” (which also starred “Divergence’s” Ekin Cheng) than his teen-heavy throwaway films like “Gen-X Cops” and its most unfortunate follow-up, “Gen-Y Cops”. “Divergence” is Chan’s most recent film after the Jackie Chan comeback vehicle “New Police Story”, which also starred “Divergence’s” Daniel Wu, here playing a hired killer who crosses paths with cop Aaron Kwok while the latter is escorting a witness back to Hong Kong from Canada.

The first thing you notice is that “Divergence” has more story and characterization than the usual hired killer film that comes out of Hong Kong (which is to say Hong Kong probably makes way too many formulaic hired killer movies for any one film industry). The lead is Aaron Kwok (very effective as a judo punk in Johnnie To’s “Throwdown”), playing a cop perpetually on the precipice of a mental breakdown. Kwok’s Sean is not having a good day — after his witness is shot full of holes by Coke (Daniel Wu), Sean is suspected of leaking information to the killers.

Later, while following dispassionate criminal lawyer To (Ekin Cheng, in a humorously subdued performance), Sean spots someone he believes to be his girlfriend (Angelica Lee), who has been missing for the last 10 years. Could it be? Or is the woman, who is also To’s wife, just happen to bear a striking resemblance to Sean’s missing girlfriend, a woman who vanished one night, never to return. Or did she? And why does hired killer Coke seem to be intimating that he knows something about what happened to Sean’s girlfriend? Add to this a subplot about a vigilante serial killer, the case of a dirty businessman’s suddenly missing son (who is also a manufactured pop star, no less), and there are enough subplots in “Divergence” for two movies. Or three.

Although heavy with plot, “Divergence” seems less concern about the police angle than following the slowly self-destructing career of Sean, which in this case is a good thing, because Sean makes for an interesting character, while the whole cop stuff smells of cop movie cliché. One of the film’s more interesting subplots is a scene near the beginning, when Sean, while escorting a prisoner on a plane, is recognized by two women. It’s revealed that Sean used to be on TV, although how and why is never really made clear, or followed up on, unfortunately. Was Sean some kind of hero cop who showed up on TV often? I don’t know why, but the fact that Chan and writer Ivy Ho brought up this idea of Sean the cop as also being a former TV star, only to never touch it again, kept me thinking about the question throughout the entire film.

Unanswered questions to wacky, 5-second subplots aside, “Divergence” makes for very interesting viewing, even though there’s nothing overly special about the film as a whole, and one finds it difficult to explain why it makes for worthwhile viewing. As a cop film, “Divergence” is run-of-the-mill, with Sean portraying the usual “loose cannon cop”, although Sean seems to be more loose cannon than cop. In another of the film’s more intriguing quirks (at least to this reviewer), is the question of whether actor Aaron Kwok chooses his own movie wardrobe, or if it was the film’s intention to dress the character in pants that are at least two inches too short (thus revealing his white socks often), or that the character always seems to be disheveled, giving the impression that he sleeps in his car as a rule of thumb, which may also explain the man’s poor posture.

In a bit of false advertisement, “Divergence” opens with a good action scene where Coke dispatches of Sean’s witness, followed up by a cat-and-mouse game between Sean and Coke that seems to go nowhere. There are other active subplots, such as Sean’s continued search for his missing girlfriend, his stalking of To’s wife, and his visits to the mortuary where he converses with morgue guy Eric Tsang (doing cameo duty along with Suet Lam). There’s a final, violent gun battle in the rain to close things out, but it’s interesting to note that the sequence doesn’t involve any of the three main characters, none of whom appears on scene until the last shot has been fired.

Of the three main principals, Aaron Kwok gets most of the screentime, especially in the beginning, with Ekin Cheng and Daniel Wu seemingly slipping in and out of the film at random intervals just to remind us that they have something to do with the movie. (But fear not, all is revealed at film’s end.) “Divergence” keeps its major question — is To’s wife Sean’s missing girlfriend or isn’t she? — unanswered until the very end, which is a good idea from a scripting point of view, but a poor one if you are a fan of Angelica Lee, who is criminally underused throughout. Coming off the excellent “A1” with Anthony Wong, and before that the equally excellent “Koma”, it’s disappointing to see Lee in a supporting role that keeps her in the background with nothing to do for much of the film.

“Divergence” is an interesting film in many respects. As an action film, it doesn’t always deliver on the goods; as a crime film, it’s also a bit lacking. But as a character film, it’s quite good, helped in no small part by Aaron Kwok’s affecting performance. Ekin Cheng is mostly a non-entity, and Daniel Wu seems to be having a ball coming off his award-winning role in Jackie Chan’s “New Police Story”. Although hard to pin down, “Divergence” makes for intriguing viewing, if only because it’s a very odd film, and you wish there was about 30 more minutes of movie time available just to get everything in.

Benny Chan (director) / Ivy Ho (screenplay)
CAST: Ekin Cheng …. To
Ning Jing …. Ding
Aaron Kwok …. Sean
Gallen Law ….
Angelica Lee …. Amy
Eric Tsang ….
Daniel Wu …. Coke

Buy Divergence on DVD