[Film Review] Hidden Man (2018)

Hidden Man poster.jpg

English Title: Hidden Man
Original Title: Tie bu ya zheng 邪不压正
Year: 2018
Country: China
Language: Mandarin, English, Japanese
Genre: Action, Drama, Crime
Director: Jiang Wen 姜文
Writers:
Jiang Wen 姜文
He Jiping 何冀平
Li Fei 李非
Sun Yue 孙悦
based on the novel XIA YIN 侠隐 by Zhang Beihai 张北海
Music: Nicolas Errèra
Cinematography: Xie Zhengyu 谢征宇
Editors: Jiang Wen 姜文, Cao Weijie 曹伟杰, Zhang Qi 张琪
Cast:
Eddie Peng 彭于晏
Liao Fan 廖凡
Jiang Wen 姜文
Zhou Yun 周韵
Xu Qing 许晴
Kenya Sawada
Andy Friend 安地
Shi Hang 史航
Li Meng 李梦
Ding Jiali 丁嘉丽
Chen Xi 陈曦
Liu Xiaoning 刘小宁
Rating: 6.9/10

Hidden Man 2018.jpg

After LET THE BULLETS FLY (2010) and GONE WITH THE BULLETS (2014), HIDDEN MAN completes Jiang Wen’s Northern Warlords trilogy, exploring political treachery and personal agendas of the turbulent 1920s, when China is beset with colonial aggressors and internal schism after the fall of feudalism and monarchy, but the nexus is unswervingly predicated on Jiang’s obsession of “wuxia”, a some sort of chivalry that defines each and every of his heroes and heroines.

The plot is pivoted around a straightforward retribution-seeking story of a young man Li Tianran (Peng), who, as an orphan boy, is within a whisker of a slaughter in the joined-hands of Zhu Qianlong (Liao), his senior fellow apprentice and the Japanese swordsman Nemoto Ichiro (Sawada), Tianran swears revenge for the death of his master’s family and returns to Peking years later as an adult, reunited with his foster father Wallace Hendler (Friend), an American doctor, and meets a Chinese magnate Lan Qingfeng (Jiang himself), who seems trying to drive a wedge between Qianlong and Nemoto – the former now becomes an ambitious upstart spoiling for resurrect monarchy by purporting that he is the descendant of Ming Dynasty’s royal lineage, and the latter is a top brass in the Japanese army – by offering Tianran to Qianlong in exchange of Nemoto’s damnation.

Adapted from Zhang Beihai’s popular novel, HIDDEN MAN patly masks Qingfeng’s treachery (whose real life inspiration mixes several historical figures), and plays up Tianran’s ostensibly headstrong determination which is ulteriorly undermined by a post-trauma affliction, in spite of his bullet-dodging instinct and preternatural Kung fu expertise, a mortal feeling of cowardice has been haunting him ever since his death-defying survival.

A kindred spirit burgeons between Tianran and Guan Xiaohong (Zhou, Jiang’s wife and muse), a fêted seamstress in Beijing, who is dogged by her own revenge agenda and guides Tianran’s maturing into a true hero rising above the facile imbroglio, after Wallace is easily dispatched and a fluid father-son bond grows between Qingfeng and Tianran.

The movie often intentionally lurches into a straight-faced farce when Jiang knowingly caters to audience’s lust over Eddie Peng’s Adonis physique and Xu Jing’s sultry flirtation, who plays the mistress of Qianlong with an unperturbed flair of grace and an unabashed candor, however, HIDDEN MAN’s much layered complex of characterization saps in the third act when the inexorable final act takes place, any suspense is dissipated when we realize it is not a nip and tuck white-knuckler but a flip statement of Jiang’s own perspective of a threadbare revenge tale sacrifices its harrowing essence for an entertaining veneer. That said, HIDDEN MAN imagines a particularly engrossing cityscape of Beijing, with its eaves to eaves concatenation of tradition houses, on which Tianran runs, jumps and cycles as if on a flat ground,

Jiang Wen’s “wuxia” obsession fares far better in the sardonic and brutal LET THE BULLETS FLY, and HIDDEN MAN, albeit sustaining a similar vibe and boasting commendable presences from Xu Qing, a scrumptiously villainous Liao Fan, and a valorous heroine Zhou Yun, not to mention Eddie Peng’s full commitment, ultimately feels cavalier and desultory, a scattershot fruition of a high-minded conception.

referential entries: Jiang Wen’s LET THE BULLETS FLY (2010, 7.9/10); Law Chi-leung’s THE BULLET VANISHES (2012, 6.1/10)

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