“Love Battlefield” is one of those movies, along with Johnnie To’s crime thrillers, that you wish Hong Kong would do more of instead of indulging in 500 moronic slapstick comedies a year starring the same stable of pop “stars”. A blending of genres, “Battlefield” stars Eason Chan (“Heat Team”) as Yui, an ER nurse who finds life and love hard going after a bad breakup with live-in girlfriend Ching (Niki Chow). It’s bad enough that Yui’s love life is falling apart, but he soon stumbles into the nest of vicious drug smugglers from the Mainland who has come to Hong Kong to complete a transaction or die trying.
Abducted and kept alive only to treat a wounded member of the gang, Yui finds his life hanging on a dangerous precipice. Yui doesn’t have any reasons to question his captors’ threats, since he’s already seen them gun down a half dozen cops in cold blood, not to mention the occasional civilian who, like Yui, unluckily stumbles into their desperate world. Soon Yui has other problems besides staying alive — namely keeping Ching as far away as possible, lest she become involved.
Directed by Soi Cheang (“New Blood”), “Love Battlefield” has a number of interesting twists and turns to keep the audience riveted until the closing credits. Cheang even spins a few “now you see it, now you don’t” moments, where scenes we thought we saw are later repeated, only this time with additional dialogue and precious seconds added back in to explain why things happened the way they did. Except for a few contrived plot points, “Love Battlefield” works well enough as an action film to recommend to enthusiasts of the genre. It’s by no means action-packed, but things do get fabulously bloody by the end.
Eason Chan performs admirable as the captive, a man who realizes that his captors have no qualms about putting a bullet in his head should his usefulness expire. Niki Chow (“Horror Hotline”) is also good as the girlfriend, whose re-discovered love for Yui drives her to do things she never thought she could. Zhiwen Wang is Wah, the head of the Mainland smugglers. At once cool, efficient, and completely capable of just about anything necessary to get the job done, he makes for a sublime and mean villain. Not mean in the sense that he’s cruel, but in the sense that he’ll murder you without a thought if it becomes necessary.
Not that the film does everything well. Of note are two instances where “Love Battlefield” tests the audience’s patience and stresses credulity to the point of bust. At one point, Yui has the perfect chance to escape, but instead wastes the precious minutes he’s been allotted to stand on a freeway filled with people and gawk at the smugglers as they try to retrieve the dead body of a comrade. Later, a cop friend of Yui and Ching suspects that Yui may be involved with the smugglers. Apparently being a cop means ignoring everything your best friends are saying and immediately jumping to the worst conclusion possible about another good friend. With friends like this idiot, who needs enemies?
Unwilling to be completely black and white, “Love Battlefield” makes an attempt to — if not completely then partially — sympathize with our band of murderous criminals. Alas, it’s a little hard to feel sorry for a bunch of psychopaths, even if one of them happens to have dragged his pregnant wife (who seems to be equally sociopathic) along with him. I suppose the fact that Wah and company just slaughtered their way through half of Hong Kong is supposed to be tempered by the presence of a pregnant wife. Boo hoo hoo. Excuse me if I don’t fall all over myself to empathize. Good people get a job at McDonalds if they have to in order to care for their family; this guy tries to sell drugs and when that fails, butchers civilians to make a buck.
Nevertheless, as one of the few films from Hong Kong that doesn’t star the Twins or some other throwaway teen singer, “Love Battlefield” deserves credit for being pretty good. Although the script by Szeto Kam Yuen and Jack Ng isn’t quite as efficient or sleek as your average Johnnie To thriller, it’s good enough. And while Soi Cheang is no slouch behind the camera, one does wish he wouldn’t be so obvious with some of the film’s more dramatic moments. Every now and then the soundtrack becomes obnoxious, and you can’t help but think that the emotional impact of some scenes would have been so much more powerful without the obvious musical accompaniment.
Although it flounders every now and then, and there are some suspect moments that makes you wonder if the filmmakers didn’t paint themselves into a corner, “Love Battlefield” is good, and unique, enough to be worth consideration. Eason Chan delivers a knockout performance, and the film is entertaining from beginning to end. Sometimes nihilistic and most certainly pessimistic, “Love Battlefield” nevertheless manages to say a thing or two about knowing what you have before some gang from Mainland China wanders into your life and threatens to take it all away. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?
Soi Cheang (director) / Szeto Kam Yuen, Jack Ng (screenplay)
CAST: Eason Chan …. Yui
Niki Chow …. Ching
Zhiwen Wang …. Wah