Tuesday, June 27, 2017

NYAFF ’17: Extraordinary Mission

As we slowly steadily de-criminalize drug possession, China has doubled and tripled down on the drug war. Permissiveness just isn’t Xi-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed Jinping’s style. Tragically, the 2011 Mekong River Massacre of Chinese merchant sailors provided plenty of propaganda fodder. At least the war on drugs is explosively entertaining in Alan Mak & Anthony Pun’s Extraordinary Mission (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 New York Asian Film Festival.

Lin Kai, as he is now known, is an undercover cop, who has a very personal reason to crusade against the drug cartels. He quickly apprentices himself to Cheng Yi, the chief distributor in the depressed industrial city of Yunlai, but when a drug deal goes suspiciously sour, Lin Kai makes a play to ingratiate himself with the Golden Triangle supplier.

The Double Eagle Cartel is led by the erratic but charismatic leader, Eagle. His chief deputies are his surrogate son and daughter. With Cheng Yi under cloud of suspicion, Lin Kai makes a bid to replace him. Of course, Eagle’s vetting process is pretty harrowing. He even drugs the undercover into a temporary state of heroin addiction. However, our hero is made of stern stuff. Ordinarily, his handler, Li Jianguo is also highly disciplined. However, when Li learns Eagle has secretly imprisoned his presumed dead partner for ten years, all bets are off.

There is plenty of corruption and betrayal in Mission, but karma is the real killer. These characters have shared history and grudges worthy of classical tragedy. Everything and everyone is connected, in ways that simmer and burn.

Established HK director Mak knows his way around the underworld and its intersection with the realm of law enforcement, having co-helmed the Infernal Affairs and Overheard trilogies. Of course, working with Mainland and Southeast Asian settings frees his characters from any pesky constitutional restraints that could slow down the action. He and Pun (the cinematographer who shot the Overheards, making his [co-]directorial debut) put the pedal to the metal, especially during the maelstrom of the third act. Bullets fly, motorcycles fly, cars crash, and bodies go thud.

Xuan Huang is perfectly serviceable as the silently brooding Lin Kai, whereas Duan Yihong is flamboyantly villainous as the borderline psychotic Eagle. Zu Feng is awesomely steely as Li, while Lang Yueting is terrific as Eagle’s haunted and mysterious “daughter,” Qingshui.

Mission might be considered a Mainland picture, but there is a heck of a lot of HK talent behind the camera. That is a good thing, because Hong Kong cinema has a natural comparative and competitive advantage when it comes to making cops and gangster movies. This one emphatically delivers the goods. Very highly recommended for action fans, Extraordinary Mission screens Saturday night (7/1) at the Walter Reade, with Duan in attendance to accept the 2017 NYAFF Star Asia Award.