Sunday, August 04, 2019

Fantasia Extra: Bodies at Rest

I joke about needing to ease out of Fantasia slowly rather than just doing four movies on Thursday and stopping every year, but I suspect I probably could. Someone just always happens to open something at the Cineplex Forum on that Friday that doesn't seem to be playing Boston.

Thus, Bodies at Rest, which seems like a really screwy release in that it seems to be getting a release in Canada, at least, alongside a mainland release that is listed as "Cancelled" on IMDB, with later releases scheduled for China/Hong Kong/Singapore listed (and also listed on Douban). It can't be coming out in Canada (and presumably the US) first, can it? Also, how the heck does a story which revolves around corrupt cops get a Mainland release while so much else seems to be swallowed up by the censors there? Or is it kind of nefarious, like it's okay to point out that there's police corruption in Hong Kong, and maybe make sure people keep getting reminded that it happens there (while depiction of PRC cops has them pure and virtuous) for the next time they're thinking of cracking down.

Of course, like I say in the review, perhaps the worst part of this screwy situation is that Harlin can't make the hard-R movie that this clearly wants to be. There's actually a pretty good chance that I would have responded to that movie in much the same way but for different reasons, but the fact of the matter is, this is a movie that is built around bodies getting torn up and treated like things and evidence rather than former people, and I think you kind of need to lean into that, kind of rub the repugnance of it in the audience's face, and let the way villains receive their comeuppance via the equipment used to examine the corpses resonate a bit. Not that such a version of Bodies at Rest would likely be that high-minded, but I do think a little blood and guts could do it some good.

Chen mo de zheng ren (Bodies at Rest)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2019 in Cineplex Forum #1 (first-run, DCP)

As near as I can tell from its online footprint and the credits, Bodies at Rest started as an English-language script, got picked up by a Chinese company, was rewritten to be set in Hong Kong but shot in Beijing (in Mandarin), directed by a Finn, after which point it seems to have sat on the server for a year before being finally getting what release it did, dubbed into Cantonese for at least its North American release. That it is kind of a mess is unsurprising; that it's still a fairly acceptable little thriller is a sort of testament to everyone knowing what they're doing.

It's Christmas Eve 2017, and the radio is warning of torrential rains in Hong Kong, so everybody should just stay home, buckle down, maybe have some eggnog. At the city morgue, forensic examiner Nick Chan (Nick Cheung Ka-Fai) is midway through his shift, aided by intern Lynn Qiao (Yang Zi), with "Uncle King" (Ma Shuliang) covering the front desk. That weather advisory and skeleton crew makes it easy pickings for masked intruders "Santa" (Richie Jen Hsien-Chi), "Rudolph" (Feng Jiayi), and "Elf" (Carlos Chan Ka-Lok), who want the bullet lodged in gunshot victim Ankie Cheng (Clara Lee). In and out in an hour, they think, not counting on how Nick is fairly driven to now have another murder sit unsolved like that of his wife.

As hooks for Die Hard-style sieges go, that's actually pretty clever, and if you're going to do that, you might as well get the guy who directed Die Hard 2 and has, of late, been plying his trade for Chinese studios with more screens to fill than they have journeyman directors to churn things out. It seems like a great fit, especially when you consider that Harlin also has roots in horror and has seldom been afraid to put more blood and guts into his action/adventure flicks than some of his contemporaries. If this were a Hong Kong thriller, he'd probably be free to go to town, but in a Chinese co-production, he's working with one hand tied behind his back. So he shoots around anything that might show too much of a corpse being examined or cut up, has one of the best kills of the film neutered, and is so cautious as other characters get maimed that I can't say as to whether a pretty specifically called out piece of mayhem in the last act wound up happening or not. Even as someone who doesn't particularly like that much gore in my movies, I'm not sure why you hire Harlin to shoot this script and then basically limit him to headshots that don't bleed until the victim is lying face-down on the floor.

Full review on EFilmCritic

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