Dust to Dust <第八个嫌疑人> marks the sophomore directorial effort for Jonathan Li, whose 2017 debut feature was a result of a style-over-substance action thriller, The Brink <狂獸>. Thankfully, he has improved considerably here in his latest movie, blending a solid mix of crime thriller and character-driven drama.
Already a surprise box-office hit in China when it was first released in September, Dust to Dust <第八个嫌疑人> is based on a true story about the largest bank robbery in China back in 1995. The story — credited to Chou Man-Yu of 2014’s Naked Ambition 2 <豪情2> and 2016’s Good Take! — incorporates the time-jumping narrative detailing the past and present times, beginning with the mid-1990s era.
We first learn how the owner of a construction company, Chen Xinwen (Da Peng) alongside his cousin Chen Xin’nian (Sunny Sun) resorted to a robbery after running out of funds to complete a bridge. They ended up recruiting five individuals to orchestrate a bank heist by robbing the cash van outside the Dongyu branch of Yonghua Savings Bank.
The robbery succeeds, albeit a messy one and the Provincial Security Bureau quickly assembled a special task force from Dongyu, Qingyuan and Tongzhou police to track down the robbers. Led by Wang Shouyue (Lam Ka-Tung) and He Lan (Zhang Songwen), they manage to locate the five robbers but Chen and his cousin managed to disappear without a trace.
But it wasn’t until 21 years later, the now-retired Wang Shouyue gathered new information that prompted him to find Chen and his cousin.
The non-linear storytelling is an interesting touch, which helps to give the otherwise familiar plot about cops vs robbers a fresh spin. The first half of the movie is particularly intriguing, as we see these desperate men led by Chen do whatever is necessary to pull off the robbery leading to the cash van heist. The heist itself is thrillingly staged with palpable moments of gritty violence, thanks to Jack Wong’s action choreography.
But interestingly, it was the aftermath of the robbery that elevated the movie. Soi Cheang, who co-produced Dust to Dust <第八个嫌疑人> brings a distinctly pessimistic narrative influence to this mainland production. This is especially true with Chou Man-Yu’s screenplay touches on the dark side of fate and karma as one — as in the case of Chen and his cousin — can’t simply escape the sins of the past without facing the consequences. This, in turn, allows Li’s direction to subtly execute the obligatory “crime must pay” angle needed to appease China’s strict censorship demands.
As the movie progresses further, we see how the robbery changes everyone who is involved, for better or worse. For Chen, his decision of masterminding a robbery marks the beginning of the end. It was a point of no return that no matter what he does, even when decades have passed, the past will always catch up on him.
Here, Da Peng excels in his conflicted role as Chen Xinwen and I like how the story depicts him as a sympathetic antagonist amidst all the violent crimes that he has committed. The rest of the cast is just as engaging and this includes Lam Ka-Tung’s dedicated cop role as Wang Shouyue and Sunny Sun’s solid supporting turn as Chen Xinwen’s anxious cousin, Chen Xin’nian.
Dust to Dust <第八个嫌疑人> also benefits from top-notch production values, notably on the 1990s setting and costume design. The movie may have been lengthy in certain parts but overall, Dust to Dust <第八个嫌疑人> is a better-than-expected crime thriller worth checking out.