Beyond Hypothermia (1996)

Reviewed by: Hyomil
Date: 04/07/2011

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: Beat TG
Date: 09/07/2008
Summary: Lovely performance by Jacklyn Wu

Often described as the female version of John Woo's THE KILLER, the movie however is much different in plot and character development. I really like the idea of a woman starring in an effective/charismatic/heavy role that male actors would otherwise fill in easily and the fact that Jacklyn Wu (the lead actress from A MOMENT OF ROMANCE) portrays the role is the interesting thing about the movie. Her role, despite requiring less acting from her and demands her to be a cold type, is well fleshed both as the plot is furthered and also as her past is revealed giving soul and heart in the character. Unfortunately, taking the running time in consideration (around 85 min in length where thing happen a bit too fast that also would point out quite a few plot holes), the overall character development starts swinging everywhere affecting the impact and depth of the plot and characters, especially evident in Wu's relationship with Sean Lau (who gives a wonderful performance, as always, as an ex triad turned gentle and flirting noodle cook who falls for Wu). But luckily, it's the only subplot of such kind that exists whereas the rest of the movie resolves around Wu settling a score with the business she's working for and her foes, and it's very well done with alot happening: assassinations, shoot-outs, stunts, chases (nicely staged by Yuen Tak and Yuen Bun) and betrayal. On top of that, the acting is top-notch from everyone else (beside Wu and Lau) including a decent performance by Korean actor Han Sang-Woo who plays the main villain of the movie. Overall, I think some things could've been done more (the Wu/Lau relationship, the 1-dimensional villain etc) but I found the movie quite a surprise.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 10/31/2007
Summary: Recommended with reservations

Cheng, memorably played by Ng Sin-Lin, is not only an accomplished and highly paid assassin but has virtues that are important for success in a number of fields. She is patient, resourceful, ruthless and single-minded when carrying out a mission. She ignores physical discomfort, changes tactics when necessary, doesn’t get distracted from accomplishing her objective when circumstances change and deals with obstacles as they occur. She is deadly with a number of firearms, equally effective at ranges from 500 meters to point blank and has no compunction against killing witnesses. As a killer she as good as can be but as a heroine of a melodrama Cheng is a cipher, which is the main problem with “Beyond Hypothermia”, there is no moral center, no person essential to the action of the film with whom the audience can empathize. Cheng doesn’t know her own history only that she was born in Cambodia and somehow escaped that blood soaked land for Hong Kong. We don’t know either but from the moment that she very calmly executes the young daughter of a target we know there is nothing in her background, however horrible, that could justify such complete depravity. Ng Sin-Lin is beautiful, Patrick Leung’s camera loves her, she is strikingly framed and often bathed in a blue or green light that makes her even more ethereally compelling. However, her character is objectively evil, a person who knowingly and willingly slaughters the innocent as well as the (presumably) guilty.

There is the slightest bit of ambiguity in that scene. We see Cheng from the point of view of the toddler, pointing her pistol directly at the camera, holding for a moment, and then pulling the trigger. It is the first and possibly only time that we don’t actually see her bullet hit home. Indeed immediately before this sequence she killed the gang boss father of the child firing with the barrel of the pistol against the back of her targets head. So while it is possible to imagine that Cheng decided not to kill the girl there isn’t much evidence for it.

Her opponent is Chui, the chief bodyguard and enforcer for Korean gangster Mr. Pak. While he is clearly not as good at his job as Cheng is at hers—she kills Mr. Pak and then escapes in a very well done chase on foot through the streets and stores of Seoul—Chui is also very deadly. As he comes closer and closer to Cheng, first learning the name of the Hong Kong triad that sponsored the assassination, and then further discovering Sister Mei, Cheng’s agent, he kills an extraordinarily large number of men. His method is simple and direct. He wields two pistols and never misses with either hand. While Cheng’s kills are precise and well planned, his are chaotic and dependent on the bad judgment or poor shooting of his manifold targets.

While there are some formal parallels with movies of John Woo—“A Better Tomorrow” and its sequel come to mind readily—neither Cheng nor Chui have the righteous authority and moral weight of Mark Gor or Tequila Yeun. There is no heroism in the bloodshed of “Beyond Hypothermia”.

There is, however, a lot of stylized good looking filmmaking. While Cheng often moves in a universe of washed out blue or green, Long, her unlikely and tenuous connection to the world beyond killing, is just as often lit and shot with natural looking light. He runs a down-market noodle stand where she goes to take part in the simple rituals and routines of everyday life compared with the otherworldly intensity of carrying out assassinations for hire. After each killing Cheng stops at Long's food stand for burning hot plain noodles. She is always dressed fashionably; he dresses like a harried cook/waiter trying to serve enough lunches to stay in business for another month. She doesn’t talk with anyone; he is a favorite with the all the locals, especially the kids. Long is Lau Ching-Wan in all his rumpled, earthy glory, a former triad who decided to go straight, a nice guy always ready with a free meal for a hungry beggar but tough enough to be the only business in the area who isn’t paying protection.

He is in love and has been from the first time he saw Cheng—his “Pretty Ghost”. As the maniacal Chiu gets closer to Cheng, Long doesn’t flinch even when the bullets begin to fly in earnest. One hesitates to say that this is a perfect role for Lau Ching-Wan since this incredibly gifted actor seems able to make any role his own, but he is just about perfect here.

Shirley Wong Qui-Lee as Sister Mei is simply evil personified. She is as bad as Bill Sykes or Iago but without the animal vitality or nobility of those literary creations. She controls Cheng, acting as her booker and cut-out, insuring that the fees are paid and the logistics are sound. Most importantly she keeps Cheng wandering in an existential wilderness without an identity, a history or even a memory of her childhood. Her control of Cheng is slipping a bit, although she doesn’t know that it is because of Cheng’s newly found interest in Long. Cheng tells her that she would like to be with a man, not only as a lover but as a friend and companion—although she qualifies her desire and underlines once again just how amoral she is by saying that as soon as he started to suspect she was an assassin she would kill him.

The homoerotic byplay between Sister Mei and Cheng isn't really expected so both Cheng and the audience are shocked when Sister Mei slips her hand under Cheng's blouse while telling her that a relationship simply can’t happen. We aren't sure if there is a Sapphic aspect to the relationship or if Sister Mei is trying to strengthen her hold on Cheng by claiming her body.

One brief scene is almost heartbreaking in its poignancy. For the first time Cheng relaxes and really opens up while taking Polaroids of herself. She poses, smiles, looks over a shoulder at the camera, basically acting like a young woman pleased with the way she looks (and feels) and happy to have a record of it. She then selects on picture, dates it and hides it behind a picture of a Buddha statue on her desk and burns the rest of the photos.

Recommended with reservations

Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: PAUL MARTINEZ
Date: 03/25/2007
Summary: Stylized Ballistic Ballet

I won't go into too much of the plot details as others here have covered that well. I really enjoyed this film. I've watched it a couple of times now and while I understand there are some flaws, overall I felt it was really enjoyable watching.

Lau Ching Wan is very good here which is no surprise for one of the most underated actors ever. What makes him great is his ability to get whatever emotion he want to come across without overacting which we see so often from others. I never thought of Wu Chien-Lien as a great actress but this was her finest performance I've seen.

Visually this film sets itself apart from many others in the genre. Beautifully shot, with a blue tinge I'm guessing to symbolize the cold-hearted nature of Wu's character, and of course the movie's title.

The action scenes are intense and very violent. Some complain that some of it was over-done but not anymore so than one of John Woo's manic scenes(which I love too). I admit, the ending didn't cut it for me, but that didn't take away the pleasure I had while viewing this. I especially liked the opening scene, as it was something you would almost never see from a Hollywood production.

I recommended this to any fan of the HK gun-play action films. While this isn't a John Woo masterpiece, it still delivers on a couple of levels.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: sharkeysbar
Date: 05/28/2005
Summary: Film noir........... nearly

I found this movie strange yet completely engaging, the story isn,t that original, the acting is quite good but the ending was a real cliche (it sucked!!!).
I have watched it several times now and every time I am hooked again, the twists surprise me every time, I really feel for the nameless (and soulless?) assassin. It borrows from all over the place for ideas but yet it hits hard, I have all sorts of emotions watching this movie, so it deserves praise for being a movie that rises above many others. I can even forgive it its many flaws and mistakes and I would recommend any and all to see it. I haven't watched it for the last time yet!

Reviewed by: pjshimmer
Date: 01/29/2004
Summary: With the poor vcd presentation, it looked like a $500-budget film

Without doubt, the awkward Chinese title contributed to the box office failure. As a great film, it only reminded me why I have always loved sentimental Chinese movies. It's almost overdone at the end, but I think it was still effective. I really liked this one -- I don't even want to think about the flaws. Looking at some of the garbage Johnny To has made lately, one hopes to see future involvement in solid films like this from him.


Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 09/18/2003

A soulless assassin (Wu) finds solace in a noodle shop owned by a former Triad (Lau). Her dreams of having a normal life with the noodle cook are shattered after a Korean gangster (Han, sporting one of the most ridiculous haircuts I've ever seen outside of a Flock of Seagulls video) comes to Hong Kong to take revenge for a crime boss she killed.

Beyond Hypothermia (the film takes its title from the fact that the main character's body temperature is five degrees lower than normal) was highly lauded upon its premiere; many people cited it as a female version of John Woo's genre-defining classic The Killer. Upon closer inspection, Beyond Hypothermia has only a slight resemblance to The Killer, but is still fairly entertaining nonetheless.

Where Beyond Hypothermia and The Killer differ radically are the characters. While The Killer had a solidly human element to it (portrayed through the relationships in the movie), Beyond Hypothermia's characters are cold and unfeeling, leaving the audience little to sympathize with. Even though Lau's character is warm and likable, when in comparison to the other people in the movie, he comes off as a fake caricature and thus loses credibility in the audience's eyes. The romantic elements, while somewhat touching, seem forced -- mostly because we know so little about the characters. It's as if Beyond Hypothermia is actually a sequel to a previous movie, where we learned about the characters. Again, it's this kind of "nebulous void" in character development that presents a major roadblock in the enjoyment of the movie.

Another roadblock in the movie is the heavy-handed symbolism. Granted, The Killer and similar films have their share of symbolism, but Beyond Hypothermia goes overboard with it. By the end of the film, the use of ice cubes (for the killer) and boiling water (for the cook) got to be just too much. We get the point already -- the cook is "warming" the killer's heart.

The film also tends to diverge in points and thus slow the story down, such as the incestuous sub-plot involving Wu's aunt. I also think far too much time was spent on the Korean hitman (mostly in throwaway scenes, such at his boss' funeral), since his relationship within the movie as a whole is only secondary to the killer and noodle cook.

All that being said, I would still recommend Beyond Hypothermia. The film is quite stylish; the assassination scenes are quite well done in the vein of La Femme Nikita. Actionwise, Beyond Hypothermia also holds up well. While not the "bloodshed ballet" of The Killer, there are a number of good gunfights that will satisfy most any John Woo fan.

Overall, Beyond Hypothermia is a film that didn't quite live up to the hype, but is still a good movie nonetheless.

Reviewed by: balstino
Date: 07/20/2002
Summary: Buy it. Only film to touch Woo's stuff.

I was absolutely engaged in this stylist bullet ballet that is the only film to come near John Woos best. Yes, it has its flaws, including the rather hard edged and abrupt ending, but overall this stands up to repeat viewings. As female assassin movies go, IMO this is the best, topping Nikita, Shiri, ALKGN etc. Wu Chien-Lien is excellent and I wish Patrick Leung would again direct such a serious, atmospheric action film.
I recommend you buy the Taiwanese DVD release which is available from www.asiafilm.com. ENJOY!

Reviewed by: Inner Strength
Date: 05/13/2002
Summary: John Woo style, but poor delivery!

This is a very strange film, or at least it would seem so for the first 30 minutes. The strange tale of an assassin (Wu Chien Lien) who has no had no life of her own (due to her mothers overprotection), who gets mixed up with a man (Lau Ching Wan) who runs a noodle stall in Hong Kong.

It’s very unclear for a while what producer Johnnie To was trying to achieve with this, and even by the end of the film it still leaves a few questions open…like why oh why bother with the relationship side of things. Lau Ching Wan is quite honestly wasted in this film, as he is hardly on the screen for much time and doesn’t have a lot to do. How people can think he plays a good performance in this is beyond me, because he hardly does a thing, not to say he is bad though. Wu Chien Lien plays the shallow, lifeless character well, but the character she portrays is very dull, which also makes her performance look bad to a certain extent (a million miles from her better performances since). Which leaves just one thing to save the film, the action, which after a long 30 minutes begins and the overall reminiscence style of John Woo. Another side story also begins to unfold with a criminal family in Korea, which also gets the womans mother involved.

Interesting concept for Johnnie To, with a good plot, but the story really is too slow. Patrick Leung does a good job of directing it, with a lot of varied and interesting camera shots and effects. Wu Chien Lien and Lau Ching Wan don’t have enough time to act as most of the film is either slow or action packed. Sounds strange right? Well it is. The ending is as predictable as they get too!

All in all, it’s very entertaining, but also very uneven. It leaves you wondering if it’s supposed to be action or romance. It’s probably more romance, which is a big shame because neither stars shine in this, the story is slow, but the action is much better than any of the performances – though it’s limited. With parts of this left out, and more concentration on the action side of things, this could have been excellent. I’m still really undecided what to rate this, but I have gone probably higher than it deserves. It’s certainly worth seeing, and although I don’t agree with some of the points other reviewers have made, I think most people would enjoy it.

Rating: [4/5]

By the way, I want to thank ‘Sydneyguy’ for the VCD, as I lost my copy a while ago and he gave me the opportunity to see it again – thanks!

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: danton
Date: 01/03/2002

This is one of my two favorite Wu Chien Lien films. It's a Milkyway film, and comes with all the slick stylistic trademarks of that production company. The story is a variation of the lonely female assassin genre familiar from the various Black Cat/Her name is cat etc. films. The twist here is that the nameless killer played by Wu Chien Lien is void of a past, a human identity and real warm human feelings (her body temperature is literally below normal, hence the title). She desparately tries to capture some of her lost humanity and finds herself attracted to a simple noodle stand vendor played by Lau Ching Wan.

The movie oscillates between the cautious developing feelings between her and the noodle vendor, and her various assassination assignments. One of these introduces Korean triads who start pursuing her to take revenge for their leader, whom she killed. The movie ends in a violent climactic gun battle that borders on the ridiculous but just manages to avoid crossing that line.

The gun battles are well-staged, as are the various assassinations. And the role of the killer is ideally cast by Wu Chien Lien - few other actresses could project the heartbreak, the loneliness and emotional need of this character merely through a close-up of her face. I really love this movie. Go see it if you haven't yet!

Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 08/17/2001
Summary: More style, less substance!!

I have seen the ending of this movie by accident many years ago but it only until now i saw the whole thing!! Maybe thats why i am left unsatisfied with this movie.............

The plot, well their isn't much of one but the movie relies more on style and developing characters than a good storyline!!

Watching this, i just couldn't care about the characters!! I was interested in them, though Lau Ching Wai does have a lot to say!!

I was left unforfilled watching this!!


Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 05/27/2001
Summary: Early milkway, not quite reaching the heights of their later work

BEYOND HYPOTHERMIA (1996) - I think this was the first Milkyway film? It certainly has a touch of the Milkyway feel, though not as developed as it became under To's direction. The plot is quite pleasant - Wu Chien Lien is good the hitwoman trained to have no feelings and no identity by her aunt, and Lau Ching Wan is good as the sweet and innocent noodle seller. Good film, but the ending is a little bit silly.

The DVD is pretty awful. It's interesting to see John Woo's ex-assistant director strike out on his own. Wonder how much of Woo's classics can be attributed to him? He certainly seems to be a talented director, as evidenced by Task Force

Reviewed by: SBates
Date: 01/18/2001
Summary: Noir-ish Overtones....

Modest, but effective, crime film. It brought to mind such American crime films of the 40's like THIS GUN FOR HIRE and OUT OF THE PAST, with a trenchcoat-wearing, despondent female killer (Ng Sin Lin) in the place of an Alan Ladd or Robert Mitchum. The notion of the killer's abnormal blood temperature (thus the title) is never explained, or expounded upon, but that only adds to the odd, abstract tone of the film. There are some "hokey" voice over narrations ala WKW (they've been hokey since about 1940), but again, it only added to the "noir" feel of the picture. The most tragic and interesting character in the film was Ng Sin Lin's mother figure, whose treachery against Ng really gets the viewer right in the gut. Ng's eerie "non"-reaction to her death is quite good. The finale was rough, gory, a bit hackneyed (esp. final scene of doomed lovers together in bullet-riddled car), but it didn't spoil it too much. No balletic gunfighting, just hard, bloody stuff. I have yet to mention Lau Ching wan yet! He's very good as usual, except for the scene where he sees Ng kill a man for 1st time... a little overdone. May I add the first time I saw this movie I didn't like it...but, it's one that I really do recommend.

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/21/1999

A most uneven film, containing some strikingly poignant and beautiful scenes (usually in connection with Wu Chien-Lien's face) amidst a dramatically flawed and underdeveloped narrative. Everything about the plot seems rushed and half-baked; it's obviously a cost-conscious production, hastily shot. This may account for a number of boo-boos, none more hilarious than in the scene after Wu has driven her former partner to death, leaving her with blood-stained face and clothes. She then goes to visit Lau, her face still covered in blood, but the minute she reaches his noodle restaurant, both face and dress have miraculously turned clean. The final shootout is obviously inspired by THE KILLER, but without the controlling intelligence of Leung's mentor John Woo, it just seems melodramatic and overdone. Overall, a little more restraint and control would have helped to make this a fine, perhaps great action film. As it is, frequent ham acting by the supporting players (notably the Korean avenger) and the undernourished plot make one shiver, but for all the wrong reasons. Still, stylish photography by Arthur Wong delivers some goods along the way, as does Wu's moving performance as the nameless assassin.

[Reviewed by Thomas Muething]

Reviewed by: ron
Date: 12/21/1999

It has a lot of good points, especially a winning performance by Wu Chien-lien. I would definately recommend it.

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: hktopten
Date: 12/21/1999

Visually pleasing film but like Patrick Leung's last film Somebody Up There Likes Me, good attempts means they aren't good enough. Both Wu Chien Lien and the Korean actor's assassin characters are well fleshed out, and Lau Ching Wan's ex-gangster noodle cook is really likeable. Unlike Somebody, all of the elements were coming together nicely but like Somebody all that lasted UNTIL the expected but still brutally tragic ending which somehow erased all the merits of the film for me. Even so, the film still deserve at least one viewing before you make up your mind.

Reviewed by: shelly
Date: 12/09/1999

An assasin's-gunplay plus improbable-love-story mix starring Wu Chien-lien, Lau Ching-Wan, and a whole lot of Korean money and weaponry. A female assasin (WCL), whose body temperature is several degrees below normal (don't ask, it didn't seem to have any more than symbolic significance) becomes embroiled in Korean gang violence, and is set up for one last hit by her female controller. At what should be its core is a fascinating, unorthodox love story between steely, fiercely repressed Wu Chien-lien and an affably goofy and outgoing Lau Ching-Wan. After her hits, dispatched with technological flare and emotional ultra-cool, she needs to decompress: her comfort food is a bowl of steaming noodles from his shop. Inevitably their lives entwine, she finds a warmth and connection with him that she has lost in her own life, and sparks fly. But the mechanism of this entanglement is fascinating and wholely original. Wu Chien-lien is consistently fine, in a very tough role, one which forces her for the most part to indicate a tumultuous emotional life through the tiniest gestures and glances. But Korean production money has bought a sometimes shockingly gory, excessively lengthy virtuoso action film that wraps up and threatens to smother the romance. Director Patrick Leung has much to offer the gunplay genre: some fresh and vigourous cinematography, and a rich colour palette even more striking than in his Somebody Up There Likes Me. But the action sequences go on too long, and the plot seriously sags in its middle section, set in Seoul. This film doesn't know just who its intended audience is.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: pablo
Date: 12/09/1999

Ng Sin Lin plays a nameless assassin always on the move in order tohave no history or identity. Just when she meets simple noodle cart owner Shek Long (Lau Ching Wan) and starts having second thoughts about her lifestyle, a recent hit comes back to haunt her. A very uneven film that is never sure if it should be a straight action film or love story (I'm guessing Patrick Leung was trying for an action film with substance). The film has a nice visual style, and Lau Ching Wan and Ng Sin Lin have genuine chemistry, but it never quite comes together. The story moves along too fast, making the relationship seem rushed. The title refers to the assassin's unusual body temperature; not that this has any relevance to the story.