Sunday, July 01, 2018

NYAFF ’18: The Big Call

Lin A-hai’s gang doesn’t merely steal from the most vulnerable. They do so at the most annoying times. His motley crew of phone and internet scammers operates out of Thailand, using Chinese nationals lured using bait-and-switch tactics. They are a slippery bunch, but an upright HK cop and his undercover ex-girlfriend are determined to bring them down in Oxide Pang’s The Big Call (trailer here), which screens during the 2018 New York Asian Film Festival.

Lin is the brains of the outfit, but since the cops have nothing on him (despite the best efforts of driven Ding Xiaotian), he can strut around Hong Kong at his leisure. His girlfriend Liu Lifeng is the operational manager, overseeing the women (primarily) forced to work in their Bangkok boiler room. Xu Xiaotu has infiltrated the operation, having been vouchsafed by a recruiter the electronic bunco squad busted. Liu can’t make up her mind whether she suspects Xu is a plant, but she respects her toughness and even seems to enjoy hang time with her. Meanwhile, an even more ruthless rival from Taiwan threatens to move in on their operation.

With Big Call Oxide Pang proves you can make a slam-bang action movie about telephone scamming. Perhaps this means somebody lost a bet—possibly to his filmmaker brother Danny Pang. Regardless, he pulled it off and as an additional coup he scored Gwei Lun-mei’s virtuoso performance as a straight-up unambiguous-right-from-the-start villain as the ruthless but tragically co-dependent Liu.

Wow, as much as we adore Gwei, even we didn’t know she could express such ferocity. Yet, we still end up feeling for her deeply. Jiang Mengjie is simultaneously strong and sensitive as undercover Xu, while Peng Xinchen is downright heartrending as Lin’s estranged sister Xiaoqin. In comparison, Cheney Chen’s Ding is rather a righteous bore, but at least he has more stamina than T.J. Hooker running after cars and jumping down fire escapes and the like. However, Joseph Chang Hsiao-chuan’s Lin is so cold and calculating, he really makes him spectacularly detestable.

Whether working solo or with his brother, Pang has always had a knack for staging slick action sequences. Big Call is no exception, but the real heat comes in the hothouse boiler room intrigue. Pang cranks up the claustrophobia and then lets Gwei and Jiang power the film with their intensity. It is like an old school HK cop movie, but with distinctly 21st Century criminals (in fact, the thumb nail sketch Pang and co-screenwriter Liu Hua provide of Lin’s multi-tentacled operation is rather illuminating). Highly recommended for action connoisseurs and fans of Gwei, The Big Call screens July 4th at the Walter Reade, as part of this year’s NYAFF.