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天行者 (2006)
Heavenly Mission

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 01/27/2011
Summary: A poor effort

"Heavenly Mission" depicts faux-Buddhism passive acquiescence to the world as it currently exists. It is wrapped in the images and icons of a crime movie and weighted down with stock characters, an off the shelf plot and clutter of conflicting themes. With a running time of almost two hours it is a bloated mess that slowly hammers away at its facile ideas, proving nothing.

All of which is unfortunate. “Heavenly Mission” is well cast with highly professional artists. Although lacking in star power there are competent actors in every part; it is just that the parts written for them are of the stand around and talk (or stand around and look meaningful, enraged or frightened). The writers—two of whom appeared as actors in the film and should have known better—never use one word where ten will do; if a point is worth making once it seems it is worth making again. And again and again.

The look of the movie is what makes it watchable. Art director Bill Lui Cho-Hung did a great job, not only with the splashy “look at that” type sets such as the Thai cave temple with a huge black Buddha surrounded by rows of offerings but also on the more typical sets such as a karaoke bar with mirrored string curtains and the luxurious but sterile estate of the Kok family. Cinematographers Ng Man-Ching and Ng Man-Juen also did a great job of showing and framing the action. There were some obvious demo reel shots one using the mirror curtains to great effect, a number of the always effective shots of the Hong Kong skyline including a few from the harbor but in general they simply turned out compelling and convincing shots of the action (or lack of it).

None of the actors made much of an impression. Stephen Fung is always angry or about to be angry; Ekin Cheng is so slow moving and somnolent that one might think he nodded off in the middle of a scene; Julian Cheung is much too callow and clumsy to be the consigliore/lawyer behind Autumn Yip’s restoration while Alex Fong continues to play Alex Fong, consistently delivering the same performance with the same quirks and mannerisms no matter what the role. Ti Lung walked through his role as Big Brother although showed more authenticity and real emotion than anyone. Nikki Chow played against type as the ditzy gangster girlfriend instead of her more typical roles: executive, lawyer, psychiatrist, actress.

Hong Kong has produced many great crime films: “Hard Boiled”, “The Mission” and more than a few with strong and moving Buddhist themes: “Running on Karma”, “Love au Zen” and of course “Infernal Affairs” I and II which combine everything so perfectly. “Beautiful Mission” seems to be an attempt at combining Buddhism and crime/suspense but it doesn’t work well on any level.

Reviewer Score: 3

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 05/13/2007
Summary: 5/10, being generous

Autumn Yip is the toughest gangster around, until he's struck by lightning and spends 8 years in a Thai jail. On his return, a special task squad is set up by the Anti-Triad bureau to bust him, but he just seems to go around giving money to charity. What could it all mean? Don't ask writer/director James Yuen, because after watching Heavenly Mission it's apparent that he doesn't know... 'smoking is bad' seems to be the only obvious conclusion to draw from the films many plot threads. Perhaps if the subtitles had been better, and had bothered to translate the names of several books that seem to be significant it would have all made a bit more sense- but probably still not a lot.

Heavenly Mission is at least a nice looking film, and has an intermittently good soundtrack, and anything which helps Ti Lung pay his rent can't be all bad. James Yuen has some good to almost great scripts in his filmography, so it's hard to believe he didn't at least have a vision of what the film was supposed to be all about, and it was probably quite grand. If he'd handed his story to a better director, maybe we'd be talking about Heavenly Mission as a new Hong Kong classic. There's little point conjecturing about what might have been the case since the film is out on DVD already, so we're stuck with what we got... which is a film that's not actively unpleasant to watch but has too many "huh?" moments, and only vaguely pulls them together into some sort of "ah" at the end. There are spots along the way that are pretty good, but overall it's a "meh".

Reviewer Score: 5

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 02/27/2007

Heavenly Mission is an interesting take on the Triad movie genre that initially holds some promise. In a rarity in the world of Hong Kong movies, this is a gangster movie with a heart. Unfortunately, director James Yuen never fully fleshes out his vision and the results end up feeling more than a bit hollow.

The film centers on Autumn Yip (Ekin Cheng), a gangster who is returning to Hong Kong after spending eight years in a Thai prison. Autumn wants to go straight, so he borrows $30 million from a former associate and then sets out to spread cheer around HK by doing good deeds like buying tickets to Disneyland for poor kids.

Autumn's PR campaign allows him the means to set up a new legitimate company, but the cops still aren't buying his face turn. Led by the hot-headed Ming (Alex Fong), the police doggedly harass and follow Autumn, hoping to reveal some sort of dark inspiration behind his actions. When Autumn begins metting with his old Triad buddies, it seems that the cops have finally trapped them... or have they?

Heavenly Mission features a solid story and looks great. But there's nothing behind it, even though James Yuen is constantly trying to hit the viewer over the head with some not-so-subtle messages about life and destiny. Most notably, this is shown through the relationship between Autumn and Ghost (Stephen Fung), a young Triad boss who Autumn hopes to change before he falls down the same path that led to incarceration.

The big problem with these scenes is that the acting is just not very good. While Ekin Cheng goes back to the stone-faced mannerisms of Chan Ho Nam Young and Dangerous movies, Stephen Fung runs in the opposite direction and over-acts in every scene he's in.

The other actors don't fare very well either: Alex Fong generally just acts like he's consitpated while chain-smoking (the film also has a ton of painfully obvious anti-smoking messages) and Niki Chow (who plays Ghost's girlfriend) is your typical "jade vase" -- pretty to look at but ultimately useless.

Also, the script -- even though it was written by three people -- has a bunch of nagging points. For example, one of Ming's officers (played by Carl Ng) can't read Chinese. I don't know the requirements to be a Hong Kong cop, but one would think that actually being able to read would be one of them. Nit-picks aside, there are also broad holes in the plot (such as Autumn's extremely quick rise to fame) which tend to make the movie more than a bit unfathomable.

Things aren't all horrible here, though. There are a few cameos by veterans like Ti Lung, as well as a couple of decent action scenes that perk up the viewer's interest. But overall, there's really nothing here that elevates Heavenly Mission above the realm of the average.

If you're really hard up for a new Triad movie or a die-hard Ekin Cheng fan, you might get some more enjoyment out of Heavenly Mission than this particular reviewer, but as such, I can only give this film a mild recommendation.

[review from]

Reviewer Score: 5