Wallace Chung in "Death Stranding" (2023)

Death Stranding 困兽 (2023) Review

Danny Pang is adapting a big-screen version of Hideo Kojima’s popular 2019 action game Death Stranding? It may share the identical title but Death Stranding <困兽> happens to be a crime thriller that has nothing to do with the video game whatsoever. Personally, if it turns out to be true, I would be worried, given his painfully erratic track record these days.

And yet, related or not, Pang’s latest movie marks another major disappointment for the director who used to give us notable movies like The Eye <見鬼> and Re-Cycle <鬼域>. Pang, who also co-wrote the screenplay alongside Deng Andong and Wang Qian, follows police inspector Feng (Wallace Chung) from the fictional Tiger City grieving over his sister’s (Keru Wang) tragic death. We learn that his childhood friend Zuo (Francis Ng) is his late sister’s boyfriend and her death has to do with the Thai gangster (Jacky Zhao).

The story also focuses on Feng investigating Wu Xin a.k.a. the Fourth Master (Eddie Cheung), a corrupted gambling tycoon who is secretly working with the same Thai gangster to take control of the city’s entertainment industry through dirty politics, money laundering and whatnots.

Things get complicated when Feng finds out that Zuo, who used to be a cop, is now serving as the director of the Commercial Investigation Department of the Supervision Bureau. Zuo and the Fourth Master happen to be working together too and if that’s not enough, Feng’s ex-girlfriend, Julie (Myolie Wu) turns out to be the Fourth Master’s wife.

For all the attempts in its so-called labyrinthine storytelling, the movie constantly flatlines with dull moments of shady dealing, tedious procedurals and the familiar themes of corruption, betrayal and friendship. The clunky editing makes it tough to sit through, even though the movie only runs 98 minutes long.

Despite enlisting a few familiar faces, none of the actors here made a lasting impression, let alone giving us decent performances. Wallace Chung fares the worst with his bland and charisma-free lead performance as the vengeful cop, Feng.

His co-star, Francis Ng looks like he’s phoning in and I can’t help but notice his Cantonese voice sounds like he’s being dubbed by another actor instead. Whoever did the dubbing may sound like him but it still makes me wonder why not use Francis Ng’s original voice in the first place. Because, well, it’s distracting, particularly if you are used to hearing his voices. As for the rest of the supporting cast, Eddie Cheung and the underused Myolie Wu are both wasted in their respective roles as the Fourth Master and Julie.

While the needlessly protracted storyline and poor character development hampers the movie the most, the least saving grace here is the action choreography.  We get the obligatory shootouts, complete with some stylish slow-motion moments and car chases. For the latter, Pang goes all out with the climactic third act set within the confines of an airport — easily the biggest and most ambitious stunt in the movie.

Now, if only Pang brought that same commitment to the plot and characterisation, Death Stranding <困兽> wouldn’t end up as a lacklustre crime thriller. Frankly, ever since he focused his career primarily on the mainland Chinese market, his directorial outputs have increasingly dwindled.

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