uestion: How do you know a film has little (to no) faith
in its screenplay (re: its story)?
Answer: When the screenwriter's name doesn't even appear in
the opening credits, you know you're in trouble. In fact, if a Gaffer (!)
appears in the credits, but your screenwriter doesn't, you know you're really
Such is the case with the new Billy Chung ("My
Schoolmate the Barbarian") movie "Devil Face, Angel Heart,"
about a deformed killer who returns to exact revenge on those who betrayed him a
year earlier. Under Chung's direction, the film moves at a brisk pace, but there
simply isn't enough story here to last a movie, even one that barely
surpasses the 80-minute mark.
As narrated, the film concerns Lon (Daniel Wu), a facially
disfigured killer who, along with his partner/brother Kwan (Lam Suet), are
betrayed by their no-good gangster employee (Patrick Keung) and set up to be
ambushed after a bloody hit. Kwan is murdered, but Lon survives and undergoes
radical plastic surgery that turns him into a handsome fellow irresistible to
women. Using his newfound good looks, Lon sets out on the road to vengeance
under the guise of Michael, a gangster gunman. Oh, and a cop played by Stephen
shows up every now and then to mope and mutter something about his dead partner.
The smooth directorial hand of Billy Chung, who showcases a
wealth of style by turning the filthy alleyways and nights of Hong Kong into
worlds of their own, buoys "Devil Face". But Chung is fighting a
losing battle because no matter how much he infuses "Devil Face" with
his talent, the film drowns in its own cliché plotting and a horrendous
performance by Gigi Lai as Wendy, a gangster's moll who turns into a
manipulative gangster boss herself, although not very convincingly. Which part
of Lai's performance is not convincing? Try all of them. In fact, Lai's only
decent performance is in a scene where she lounges on the floor smoking a joint
and fantasizes about Michael.
Star Daniel Wu ("Purple
Storm") is quickly becoming the new Ekin Cheng (which is not a good
thing, in case you were wondering), by appearing in one Hong Kong schlock film
after another. (He's done 5 so far in 2002. Five! Daniel, my friend,
there is a reason people read screenplays before they sign on to a movie.
Either fire your agent or learn what makes a good screenplay good. Oh, and if
the screenwriter's name is never mentioned, consider that a big tip-off.)
Although he exudes little charisma in this movie, Wu does maintain a constant
(if somewhat narrow) level of acting, which means he is probably the only stable
thespian of the entire troupe.
Co-star Stephen Fung, as a cop out to avenge his partner's
death, looks bored and sleepwalks through the role. (What else do cops in
gangster movies do beside avenge their partner's death? I have no idea, which in
itself should point out the absurdity of this gangster-cop cliché.) (The
strangely named) Convoy Chan shows up as gangster Jimmy, the second-in-command
who is bumped up to gang boss when his own boss is knocked off. Jimmy shares
command with ex-moll Gigi Lai, who is still unsure if her character is supposed
to be nice or evil or both or neither. Make up your mind, Gigi. The only decent
side character is Mei, a hooker who helps out Lon by ponying up the cash for his
surgery. She also has an amazing tongue, but that's another story.
The only real saving grave of "Devil Face" is the
smooth direction by Billy Chung, who seems to be channeling John Woo via "The
Killer." If you doubt "Devil Face" is very much influenced by
that particular Woo film, consider the motivations of the Wu and Fung
characters, and their brief interactions onscreen. Using a combination of freeze
frames, fluid camerawork, and nighttime and fluorescent lightning to his favor,
Chung fills each frame with pizzazz. It's too bad he's involved in such a shoddy
film that seems to be floating on the basis of a nonexistent script.
Better luck next time, Billy.