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Divergence
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Clockwise from upper left: Aaron Kwok, Ekin Cheng, and Daniel Wu.
Chinese: 三岔口  
Year: 2005  
Director: Benny Chan Muk-Sing  
Producer: Benny Chan Muk-Sing  
Writer: Ivy Ho  
Action: Li Chung-Chi  
Cast: Aaron Kwok Fu-Sing, Ekin Cheng Yee-Kin, Daniel Wu, Gallen Law Ka-Leung, Angelica Lee Sum-Kit, Ning Jing, Eric Tsang Chi-Wai, Jan Lam Hoi-Fung, Yu Rong-Guang, Lau Siu-Ming, Lam Suet, Sam Lee Chan-Sam, Tony Ho Wah-Chiu, Chloe Chiu Shuet-Fei, Samuel Pang King-Chi, Anson Leung Chun-Yat, Tommy Yuen Man-On
The Skinny: Involving and entertaining, but also ridiculous and muddled. Aside from one great action sequence, the biggest thrill here is probably the nifty against-type casting, which will likely piss off as many people as it intrigues. Benny Chan is still among Hong Kong's best commercial directors, but Divergence isn't really that commercial. Diverting, but not great.
 
Review
by Kozo:

A Benny Chan film is always worth a look. Chan is one of Hong Kong's most dependable commercial film directors, and even when he missteps (think Gen-Y Cops), the result is usually entertaining, and hopefully lucrative. His new flick, Divergence, fits that bill handily; it's an involving thriller with intriguing characters and a wait-for-the-final-act mystery. And thanks to its trifecta of not-quite-bankable, but still pretty damn popular stars, the film seems to have some box-office potential. Sadly, Divergence ultimately collapses beneath its incredible promise, and becomes bizarre and even a bit silly. The stars play against type, which might seem intriguing, but usually spells doom for the popstar-obsessed masses, who tend to like their stars one way only. Divergence takes chances, a commendable move by the filmmakers that could nevertheless doom word-of-mouth business. But hey, at least the ride was good.

Aaron Kwok is Suen, a rundown cop who once-upon-a-time was host of a cop radio show. Those were fine days for Suen since he had a loving girlfriend named Fong (Angelica Lee), and a fine head of floppy popstar-style hair. Nowadays Suen's hair is short and spiky, and Fong is gone - literally. She's been missing for ten years, which is the cause of Suen's beaten-up status and the object of his constant obsession. Still, who has time for old girlfriends when there's a case going on? Suen is in the process of extraditing a portly accountant from Canada back to HK, but the guy gets capped while chained to Suen. The killer is Coke (Daniel Wu, in a charismatic star turn), an oddly honorable assassin who takes greater interest in Suen than he should. Meanwhile, the fat accountant's death is a relief for a corrupt businessman (Gallen Lo), whose money laundering operation - and a fat wad of cash - has been frozen by the cops, which obviously makes some shadowy bad guys unhappy.

Suen's zeal for justice - or his obsessive, manic personality - put him on the case almost immediately. Enter To (Ekin Cheng), a barrister who works for the corrupt businessman, and basically makes a living protecting bad people from the law. To and Suen immediately face off, but sparks do not fly, because To is so stoic that he may not even have a pulse. Ekin Cheng gives To a quiet, cerebral quality, though it may be the actor's glasses doing most of the acting. Apparently, there's something going on with To, but Suen can't put his finger on it. He's too busy chasing Coke, and just trying to understand what the hell is going on. Coke has his own issues with his handler Ting (Ning Jing), who sleeps with him and could be hiding secrets of her own. To top it all off, there's a string of mysterious piano-wire killings going on, the corrupt businessman's popstar son goes missing, and Suen has just stumbled upon Fong after ten years of searching. Or has he?

Divergence is loaded with so much detail that the upcoming DVD will likely weigh 10 pounds. There's so much going on in this movie that it could probably handle a three-hour running time, though much of the happenings are internal. The three main characters - Suen, To, and Coke - have issues, and lots of them. They also have possible shared pasts and hidden connections, and each man has a pointedly complex personality. Suen is consumed by his past, and his drive to do his job exists solely because he obsesses over his missing girlfriend. To feels guilt-ridden and anguished over helping bad guys, but hides his feelings beneath an impenetrable mask - or maybe just Ekin Cheng's impassive facial expressions. And Coke is a flamboyant killer who takes chances, but muses about how he could have been a damn fine cop too. He's probably the most in tune with his issues, but not so much that he'll avoid stuff that he shouldn't be involved in. There's a lot going on: hidden agendas, shadowy villains, split psyches, and manly men who struggle with inner and outer demons.

Too bad not all of it makes sense. Divergence was written by Ivy Ho of July Rhapsody and Comrades, Almost a Love Story, and she creates copious detail and intriguing characters. What she doesn't create is a concrete resolution, or even the feeling that all these details really mean anything besides their immediate onscreen drama. Still, for a good three-quarters of the film, the details and unfolding mystery make for fascinating filmgoing. Benny Chan directs with sure pacing, and manages one pulse-pounding action sequence midway through the film. Suen chases Coke through the streets of HK and into a local market in an energetic and exciting sequence that plays to Chan's filmmaking strengths. Chan also serves up an over-the-top action finale, but that's where he falters. Events in Divergence build to a tense, emotionally-charged finale, but when certain characters run around sporting guns, everything just gets silly. Add that to sudden revelations, a bizarre conclusion, and some over-emotional acting from Aaron Kwok, and you have a movie that simply screams, "What the-?"

If anything, Divergence is simply too complex, and makes a few notable missteps. Aside from the weird ending (the fates of some characters seem more pointless than anything), there's the casting. Both Ekin Cheng and Aaron Kwok play against type, with unconvincing to satisfactory results. Ekin Cheng seems miscast as the quietly intense To, though the filmmakers spend so little time with his character that he barely has a chance to do anything. Aaron Kwok is surprisingly sympathetic, and gives his hangdog, rumpled cop an everyman likability. That is, until he's required to cry, whereupon all his audience credibility gets thrown out the window. Suen gets teary on more than one occasion, and while the silent "tear rolls down the cheek" moments work, the "cry in anguish" moments are more camp than compelling. When the big emotional moments happen, Kwok appears to be acting in a bad music video - or maybe in a silent film - instead of an emotionally complex motion picture. Maybe Benny Chan should have said "cut" a lot sooner.

Still, regular fans of HK Cinema should check out Divergence for a number of reasons. One, it's an attempt at intelligent commercial cinema, and the twisting mysteries and slow revelations are largely involving. Two, Benny Chan is a technically superior, if sometimes incomplete filmmaker who usually makes stuff worth watching. And three, it's the long-awaited Storm Riders reunion! That's right, Divergence gives Aaron Kwok and Ekin Cheng a chance to face off again on the big screen, but instead of a comic book fantasy, we get a psychological thriller featuring Wind and Cloud as a couple of messed up dudes. The creative casting is interesting, but possibly a turnoff to loyal audiences who only like Ekin Cheng as awesome triad heroes, or Aaron Kwok as colorblind dancing instructors. If anything, the casting - and the resulting cinematic fallout - makes for good conversation. Amazingly, all the above builds a pretty decent house of cards...but like any house of cards, it eventually collapses. From a "glass half full" perspective, we should just be glad that it works for as long as it does. It's bumpy and goes nowhere, but for a good portion of its running time, Divergence is an okay enough ride. (Kozo 2005)  

 
Awards: 42nd Golden Horse Awards
• Winner - Best Actor (Aaron Kwok Fu-Sing)
• Winner - Best Cinematography (Anthony Pun)
• Winner - Best Editing (Yau Chi-Wai)
• Nomination - Best Original Film Score (Anthony Chue)
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Universe Laser
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc

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