Sunday, July 01, 2018

NYAFF ’18: The Brink

Gangsters and fish just seem to go together. It is a connection that goes way back, like when the mob used to control the Fulton Fish Market, until Rudy Giuliani cleaned it out. Over in Hong Kong, scores of supposed fishermen are really part of a gold smuggling operation. Shing is a former trawler who has adapted to crime so well, he usurps the entire operation, but that means he will have to contend with the wildest cop on the Hong Kong force in Jonathan Li’s The Brink (trailer here), which screens during the 2018 New York Asian Film Festival.

A suspect dies while Sai Gui is bringing him in, but he is eventually cleared of criminal responsibility, in the most legalistic sense possible. Of course, nobody wants anything to do with him, including Chan, his strictly by-the-book captain and his partner, A-de, who is literally due to retire tomorrow, so do not get too emotionally attached to him.

For some reason, Sai Gui gets a bee in his bonnet over the gold-smuggling ring Shing runs for the ingrate Shui, who rather arrogantly assumes he can turn over the operation to his entitled son with no consequences. Instead, Shing turns the tables on Shui and son. If Kui, the Triad pulling the strings from his casino cruise ship will except Shing as his new guy, he will be a much more dangerous target for Sai Gui to take down, but the chaotic transition also represents an opportunity for the cop to expose the operation.

So, game on. The Brink is intended to be Max Zhang Jin’s big debut as an action leading man, after he stole the show in Kill Zone (SPL) 2, but it is hard to recognize him with the bleach blond surfer coif he sports this time around. Regardless, he has massive chops. Whenever he goes toe-to-toe with a bad guy, the film is on rock solid ground (even when the action takes place on typhoon-swept fishing boats).

Shawn Yue is nearly as durable and moody as Shing. Frankly, their antagonism might have played better with more personality contrast. Yet, Yue develops some intriguing chemistry with Janice Man (showing some nice chops of her own), as the unnamed protégé Shing’s takes an uncharacteristically protective interest in.

Of course, Yasuaki Kurata struts through the film with authority as the all-business Kui and Gordon Lam adds an element of humanity as the long-suffering Chan. However, the whole point of the film is to showcase Zhang, by letting his fists do the talking. The Brink has its ragged edges, but frankly that is part of its throwback, throw-down charm. Recommended as a watery thrill ride, with absolutely no pretensions, The Brink screens Wednesday night (like Fourth of July fireworks) at the Walter Reade, as part of this year’s NYAFF.