Never Compromise (1999)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2008-06-04
“Never Compromise” begins with the murder of seven people by an out of control psychopathic criminal. Francis Ng makes it clear that Brother Bill enjoys the agony of his bound and gagged victims, kneeling before him in a circle and able to use only their eyes and body language to beg for mercy. This is not a spoiler—the slaughter occurs shortly after the opening credits finish rolling. The movie can’t overcome this structural flaw—it has nowhere to go but down after this grotesquely violent opening and never really engages the audience. It is as if Donizetti had started “Lucia di Lammermoor” with staggering out of the bridal chamber covered in her husband’s blood or if Puccini had put Cio-Cio San’s suicide in Act I, Scene I. Some dramatists paint themselves into a corner—Bosco Lam blew up the paint factory.

The rest of the movie is divided into parallel sets of action. We see how the bad guys—Brother Bill and Brother Sing—got to the point of this brutal crime through a series of flashbacks while the good guys—Mainland cop Officer Tung, his preternaturally wise boss, the retiring police commissioner and his smarmy but effective nemesis, an Interpol cop assigned to the case—try to overcome their internal bickering to identify and capture them. Nothing can make us empathize with Brother Bill, of course. No matter what horrors were perpetrated on him as a child—and whatever they were, the movie did a poor job of showing them—he has become a completely repulsive and frightening individual, a poster boy for death penalty advocates. Brother Sing, underplayed to the point of somnolence by Simon Loui, is weak and completely in Bill’s thrall. This artist’s occasional tendency to sleepwalk through roles is on full display here.

The trio on the side of law and order, those defending the People’s Republic from the depredations of vicious criminals from Hong Kong—a point that relentlessly hammered home—are just dull amalgams of bickering cops from countless cop/buddy movies. Officer Tung is relentless, humorless and given to burst of rage; the Interpol officer annoys him by speaking English, by wanting to use scientific policing methods to get information instead of beating it out of suspects and by his general demeanor. The Commissioner is the eminence gris who hovers over them, making enigmatic statements while feeding his goldfish and encouraging them to play nicely together. They are a lackluster bunch, uninteresting to each other and to the audience.

The real theme of the movie, and one that is stated constantly and clearly, is the importance of capital punishment as a weapon to fight crime. There were references from both sides on the inevitability of execution once Bill and Sing were caught by the PRC police after showing and commenting on an earlier crime in Hong Kong where Bill was given twelve years in prison for killing a policeman during a robbery.

Nothing to recommend
Reviewer Score: 2