Monday, June 24, 2024

Crisis Negotiators

A funny thing to think about is that when The Negotiator came out, back in the 1990s, a popular thing for genre film fans to crumble about was American studios not putting Asian genre movies in theaters but instead getting the remake rights and doing something inferior. It was framed as a peculiarly American thing to do, because only Americans get worked up about having to read subtitles. I don't think that was particularly true at the time, but we've got enough movies coming out here now without being filtered through Miramax/Dimension and the like. It was before we really started to see things which were seemingly designed to be franchised, though.

Anyway, it's good to see a Herman Yau film in theaters again. It's been almost six months, but I see he had a second film come out in China less than a month later, so I'm very excited to see if they could potentially overlap here.

Crisis Negotiators

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2024 in AMC Causeway Street #8 (first-run, laser DCP)

Understand, I say this as a person who loves Lau Ching-Wan, but there's at least one scene in Crisis Negotiators where, even if you've only seen the trailer for The Negotiator, you can't help but remember how Samuel L. Jackson chewed the scenery in glorious fashion and sadly note that this doesn't measure up. That bit winds up clearly needing to be more unhinged than what Lau and writer/director Herman Yau are going for. And, boy, does it feel kind of odd that we've come to a point when Hong Kong filmmakers are seemingly watering down American movies for local consumption.

This version of the story starts in 1993, with hostage negotiator Tse Ka Chun (Francis Ng Chun-Yu) brought in to defuse a situation where a mentally unbalanced couple (Andy Lau Tak-Wa & Kearan Pang Sau-Wai) have taken folks in the local social services office hostage over not being able to see their child. Fellow negotiator Cheuk Man Wai (Sean Lau Ching-Wan) is there in a supportive capacity, but come 1996, he's working solo to handle a bank robbery gone wrong. Later, an old friend and colleague asks to meet, but when Cheuk arrives, Ka is dead, the police arriving just in time to find him over the body. With the Internal Investigations detective Ka had suspected, Lee Chun-Kit (Michael Chow Man-Kin), planting evidence to frame him, Cheuk escapes and eventually takes Chun-Kit, his assistant Maggie (Cherry Ngan Cheuk-Ling), informer Lu Di/Rudy (Alan Yeung Wai-Leun) and his own chief Law (Michael Miu Kiu-Wai) hostage, saying he will only negotiate with Tse - who, aside from a reputation for de-escalation and never using force, left the force to become a social worker and is thus unlikely to be part of the conspiracy.

I'm tempted to pull out my DVD of The Negotiator to compare, in part because the casting is interesting - Lau's part, as mentioned, was originally played by Samuel L. Jackson, whose breed of intensity is distinctive, and while Lau is certainly capable of letting loose, he's only occasionally in that mode here. It's hard to remember if Kevin Spacey's character was as big-hearted as Francis Ng's (one can barely remember in 2024 that Spacey was capable of that), but Ng is pretty good at letting his eyes twinkle with intelligence as everybody around him, particularly Philip Keung Hiu-Man's chief officer on-scene, tends to underestimate the pacifistic ex-cop. Much as one might like Lau to be more fiery - he plays Cheuk as a little too smart to have things spin out of control - it's a nice group.

Indeed, the film is mostly fine. If I've seen the original rather than just that preview, it's been a while, so I was never really anticipating things because I knew the story as opposed to this movie never having any really great twists - it more or less goes where expected most of the time. It's a little flabby toward the start, wanting to get too much out of its "guest stars" in the prelude before that deflated while also showing what various sorts of negotiation might look like, but once it gets moving, it's pretty good fun and doesn't waste much time.

The action is pretty well done as well; Herman Yau Lai-To has been doing this forever and has assembled a good team to handle it. Surprisingly, given that much of the film is based around people talking on the phone, some of the best bits of action come from car chases in tight spots, tight enough that they're sometimes knocking pedestrians over. Even the stuff that has some clear digital assistance is nice staging.

I did find myself wondering, toward the end, if Hong Kong is running out of 1990s cars filmmakers can destroy because they've got to set movies with police corruption thirty years in the past. They haven't run out yet, at least, and can still smash things up old-school when they need to.

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