Review: 're:solve' by Randy Ang



Following the recent trend of self-proclaimed ‘inaugural’ titles such as “1st Singapore movie with the most visual effects”, “1st movie to show war in Singapore”, “First Singapore film in 15 years to celebrate the success of ‘Xinyao’ and “Singapore’s first lion dance action film”, comes re:solve, a new local film bestowing itself with the latest billing as “Singapore’s first police crime action thriller” this time round. Directed by Randy Ang from creative agency Bettermen Asia, it is also touted as the “First Singapore film to showcase the Special Tactics Unit”, a bonus appetizer that hopes to tease and please our action-deprived local palate. Local flavored action, that is – whatever that may be.

Admittedly, though, the movie does deserve its proclamations. It is true that this reviewer can’t remember another local feature film steeped in such a genre, or with such a specific showcase. However, under the chorus of ‘Singapore’ shout-outs, the question then begs: How ‘Singaporean’ is this Singapore film in the first place, really? Randy himself has stated that he has targeted his film at the Mandarin-speaking world, where more lucrative markets in Malaysia, Taiwan and possibly Mainland China await. This isn’t surprising as the whole movie is predominantly scripted in non-colloquial mandarin to resemble the Chinese vernacular of these regions. This particular creative decision, arguably motivated by commercial interests, resulted in two problems. 
The first is obviously an authenticity and detachment issue – I have never seen a Singaporean police force communicate predominantly in proper Mandarin for one. Yes, one may argue that a movie has every right to exist in it’s own disparate world from the reality it portrays. But it becomes another problem when that created world is not even convincing in the first place, which therein lies the second problem - lines delivery. Guilty as charged are quite a few of the local supporting talents (including the extras), whose awkward attempts at pristine mandarin quips and dialogues are so distracting that they become reductive to any intended dramatic buildups and tensions throughout the film. I remember myself cringing away as local actor Sunny Pang begins his all-important, all-mandarin Ops team briefing, rattling off technical terms and encouraging teammates in such an awkwardly conscientious manner that his first appearance in the film feels way too long for my comfort. Thankfully, he did not have much to say in the film afterwards, for obvious narrative reasons. 

Jimmy Wong, who plays Wang Zhengming, is another standout in the film. His casting as a major supporting role had perplexed me throughout the viewing, due to his stiff acting, bad delivery of mandarin lines and average looks which unfortunately, stood in sharp contrast to all the good lookers casted in the film. Was this guy purely included for his brawn and muscles? His obtuse presence and lackluster performance certainly did not favor the film, especially when he is responsible for delivering a good amount of dramatics in the story. I found out later that Jimmy Wong also happens to be the Executive Producer of this movie. 


re:solve is also busy embellishing itself with money shots and visual attractions. From gratuitous shots of bikini babes, city skylines, fast convertibles and grand cruise liners to the casting of Taiwanese models like Chris Lee and Mico Chang and the frenetic fight and gun action sequences - every creative decision is intended to make the film look as delectable and exciting as possible. And the cinematography is indeed, impressive. Credit goes to Jack Tan and his Singaporean crew, who prove that they are more than capable of matching up to high international standards. A lot of shots are exquisitely designed and vividly constructed, somehow worthy of a polished high end commercial. And they are also purposeful to the drama and vision of the project. But to what purpose and vision, may we ask?

This indulgence and the film's eagerness to impress are characterized by Randy Ang’s heavy-handed approach. In two particular grand and dramatic setups, one of a shooting murder incident and the other the aftermath of the climatic scene at the cruise liner, high frame rate slow motion and rousing music are deliberately used to eek out every single dramatic emotion off the sequences. The results only feel overwrought and contrived rather than evocative. The inclusion of ‘snorri-cam’ shots to resemble first person shooter games, though novel and exciting in theory, is distracting when executed in this edit as it undercuts the rhythm of the high-octane moment instead. And a sudden cut from serious drama to bikini babes gyrating on a boat, justified by the revelation of a ludicrous narrative excuse, only feels crude and exploitative. Randy, in an interview, spoke of his intentions to reflect the prosperousness of Singapore in his film. He certainly did that, together with our country’s penchant for the spectacle and the artifice of it all.

All of the above can perhaps be overlooked if only the story holds its own. Sadly, it doesn't. Firstly, the trajectories of the key relationships in the movie are hardly well developed. For instance, the sibling love between Tianle (Sunny Pang) and Qizhen (Mico Chang) lacks weight and gravity as the audiences are mostly told of their relationship, never shown. The actors did not even have a proper scene together as brother and sister. This inhibits our ability to empathize with Qizhen’s angst and hatred over her brother’s apparent death, a main driving force in the movie, at any given point in time. The ‘Batman and Robin’ partnership of Shao Qiang (Chris Lee) and Yong Cheng (Yuan Shuai), an intended dynamic to enliven the plot, also lacks personality and chemistry as the characters merely play up to their 'buddy cop' stereotypes without being particularly memorable and distinctive. More crucially, the love-hate relationship between Shao Qiang and Qizhen, a plotline that the movie actually focuses on, falters due to mediocre acting by the two leads. Granted, the audiences are again asked to imagine a past romantic history that is never really fleshed out, but the actors have to take some responsibility for their lack of acting range and penchant for posturing – Mico with her perpetual petulant face and Chris with his sad lovelorn ‘puppy dog’ look. They do look pretty, but the most important relationship in the movie lacks believability. 

Secondly, the story is riddled with clichés all over – clichés that are neither fresh nor intelligent. Besides the abovementioned melodramatics and ‘buddy cop’ dynamic, we also have the classic revenge plot, the whodunit detective mystery, the police undercover spy theme, the token caricatured characters (old corrupted tycoon, grieving widow and scheming sex-pot all included), the philosophizing with Chinese proverbs (‘Virtue’ and ‘Justice’ comes into play in this one) and the ‘come back from the dead’ arc. Even the manga and Chinese wuxia novel inspired bit on exclusive secret mastery moves, this time known as the ‘double-tab’, plays an important role in the story. Randy Ang clearly is a fan boy here, influenced by an appetite of Hong Kong cop dramas and Hollywood crime thrillers, and had crammed all these tried and tested formulas together expecting the sum of their successes. This is not to say that any of these well-recognized ideas and themes will not work well just because they are familiar or overdone. However, in re:solve's case, a lack of focus, sophistication and ingenuity weaved into this convenient mish-mash of plot lines mean that the audiences are made to watch a rehash of predictable bits instead.

It doesn’t help that the film even fails to live up to its genre expectations. A modest amount of action sequences and a mystery solving arc suffocated by too much exposition and posturing in dull looking urban confines only makes a purported action thriller film feels and looks surprisingly sluggish and uneventful. It also doesn’t help that a ridiculously clichéd plot device, this time a Mission Impossible inspired one, is employed as if this is indeed a Mission Impossible to conveniently explain away the implausibility of this movie’s revelatory conclusion (Clue: Look closely at the first picture frame of the movie's official trailer). Well, at least this reviewer had a good chuckle over it.  
One thing I do admire about the project is Randy Ang’s ambition, or should I say, resolve (a pun I can’t resist). It is clearly difficult to execute such a big scale project with so many resources required, let alone in a country like Singapore where restrictions are abound. Suffice to say, this is a movie with the pomp and splendor of a 'blockbuster' and one of the most visually accomplished local feature films ever. What is also respectable is the fact that he attempted to challenge the convention of what a Singaporean film can be and bring something new to the table. re:solve certainly achieved that. What the film failed to achieve, however, is to provide a conceivable and compelling story. It ended up as a movie that looks distracted by its own appearances and commercial viability, and is mired by its own gratifications. Randy Ang did try his best attempt at a Johnnie To or an Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, but re:solve ultimately lacks the substance, layers and nuances of any of its inspirations.

re:solve 
《决义案》opens in cinemas nationwide on 27th Feb.

Review by Thong Kay Wee

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