Julian Cheung and Louis Koo in "Death Notice" (2023)

Death Notice 暗殺風暴 (2023) Review

It’s Herman Yau again and this time, it’s a mid-budget mystery thriller titled Death Notice <暗殺風暴>. A long-delayed production that has been circling around since 2019, with multiple release dates getting reshuffled for various reasons, making me wonder whether the movie is ever going to see the light of day.

This explains why Death Notice <暗殺風暴> has text descriptions appear in some scenes with the year “2019” on the big screen. Based on Zhao Haohui’s novel of the same name, the movie follows Inspector Law Fei (Julian Cheung), whose fiancée (Myolie Wu’s Mang Wan) was killed in an explosion alongside Law Fei’s high-ranking police-officer friend (Danny Chan Kwok-Kwan). The explosion was set up by the mysterious hooded killer dressed in black named “Darker”, a vigilante who sent out death notices to his targeted victims before murdering them.

Ten years after the explosion, Darker returns for more killing spree, beginning with the murder of an ex-regional commander played by Waise Lee. Law, who is there at the time of the murder, attempts to pursue the killer, resulting in the best action set-piece in this movie — a foot chase that sees the two of them running and jumping from one rooftop to another.

Law soon requested Deputy Commissioner of Police Tsang (Simon Yam) to join Chief Superintendent Hon Ho’s (Francis) special task force to track down Darker. Law’s erratic behaviour ever since his fiancée’s death, where the latter constantly shows up in his subconscious mind, doesn’t sit well with Hon Ho.

But Law only cares about catching the killer and his investigation leads him to seek Wong Siu-Ping (Louis Koo), a homeless man who happens to be the only surviving witness during the ill-fated explosion. That incident has since left Wong’s face partially disfigured and crippled.

Louis Koo’s appearance turns out to be one of the movie’s highlights — a supporting role that sees the omnipresent Hong Kong actor letting loose with his spot-on sardonic performance. He likes to curse a lot and his combination of hilariously deadpan line delivery provides the movie an added comic relief. His role easily impresses me the most, even though Julian Cheung and Francis Ng are no slouch either with their respectively engaging turns as Law Fei and Hon Ho.

Despite the police being on high alert to prevent further death, Darker is always one step ahead to successfully murder his targeted victims after sending out the death notices.

(Toni) Shum Sek-Yin, who previously wrote Keyboard Warriors <起底組> and yes, he was part of the screenwriting team behind the god-awful Iceman 3D <3D急凍奇俠>, does a good job laying out the groundwork at the beginning of the movie. And for a while there, combined with Yau’s efficient and briskly-paced direction, the movie is intriguing to watch. The relentless cat-and-mouse chase between the police and the killer, Darker leads to a series of consistently thrilling and suspenseful moments.

It sure looks as if Death Notice <暗殺風暴> is heading in the right direction, only to have me fooled by the story’s subsequent turn of events. As Law slowly uncovers the truth behind the carefully-planned murders all this while, this is where the story starts to become convoluted. So convoluted that Yau employed the overused narrative tricks of exposition-heavy moments and flashbacks to make us understand what’s going on as well as all the hidden motivations. Yau’s drastic shift to the laborious style of direction doesn’t help much to overcome the movie’s increasingly off-the-rails storytelling.

And it just gets worse from there with a twisty ending that had me screaming “What the heck am I watching?” internally. By the time the movie ends in a hasty manner, it was a pity to see the otherwise potential Death Notice <暗殺風暴> is nothing more than a half-baked idea of an entertaining mystery-thriller and a ridiculously labyrinthine whodunit.

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