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Operation Mekong

Operation Mekong

Zhang Hanyu poses before kicking some ass in Operation Mekong.



Year: 2016
Director: Dante Lam Chiu-Yin
Producer: Huang Jianxin, Candy Leung
Writer: Dante Lam Chiu-Yin, Chu Kang-Ki, Lau Siu-Kwan, Tam Wai-Ching, Eric Lin
Action: Stephen Tung Wai, Jack Wong Wai-Leung

Zhang Hanyu, Eddie Peng Yu-Yan, Chen Baoguo, Sun Chun, Feng Wenjuan, Ken Lo Wai-Kwong, Carl Ng Ka-Lung, Mandy Wei, Vithaya Pansringarm, Pavarit Mongkolpisit, Bhubhing Bhangsa-Ard, Amigo, Zobra, Liu Xianda, Zhao Jian, Wu Xudong, Zhan Liguo, Wu Linkai, Tam Wai-Ching

The Skinny: Despite an unimpressive script and some poor political correctness, Operation Mekong delivers a thrilling and largely entertaining ride. Dante Lam knows action, if not quality storytelling and overall restraint. Zhang Hanyu is awesome, while Eddie Peng has awesome facial hair.
by Kozo:

Thrilling action sequences are the highlight of director Dante Lam's otherwise average Operation: Mekong. Based on a true event that occurred in 2011, when the 13 crew members of two Chinese cargo ships were massacred while cruising the Mekong River in the Golden Triangle, the film is entertainingly kinetic but also narratively thin and politically unpleasant. The screenplay is drawn from a real incident with international implications and reduces it to unremarkable fodder for the type of rah-rah actioner that Sylvester Stallone might have made back in the 1980s. The action basically involves Chinese officers running rampant all over multiple countries and causing tons of collateral damage in the name of China-approved justice. Granted, these Chinese Rambos have the blessings of their neighboring Southeast Asian governments, but these regional partners are never more than background support to the awesome Chinese heroes, and the antagonists largely come off as Southeast Asian stereotypes. In this era of increased racial and political sensitivity, Operation: Mekong looks pretty ugly.

That said, Operation: Mekong moves so fast and forcefully that it's easy to ignore the rampant China fluffing and poor political correctness. The film begins with the Mekong River Massacre and moves swiftly to the halls of bureaucracy, where things run super-efficiently because, duh, China. Awesome officer Gao Gang (Zhang Hanyu) is sent to investigate, and confidence in his success is high – because, seriously, did you see Zhang Hanyu in The Taking of Tiger Mountain? Once in the Golden Triangle he joins up with hirsute intelligence officer Fang Xinwu (Eddie Peng), while also liaising with local governments who naturally get out of the way of Gao’s miniature army. Their targets: A whiteboard-full of bad guys led by Naw Khar (Pavarit Mongkolpilist), a supreme druglord who inhales his own product and yet is still able to outsmart all of Asia. The good guys follow a few leads then participate in intense set pieces punctuated by fighting, gunplay and vehicle crashes. Initial operations fail because movies need to stretch past ninety minutes, but that’s okay because our heroes always have a new lead.

The convenient number of leads helps Operation: Mekong continue its rinse-repeat formula of action and exposition, which is broken up by scattered attempts at humanizing its characters. Gao Gang has a daughter that he cares about but that’s hardly relevant to his asskicking adventures. Meanwhile, Fang Xinwu’s past comes back to complicate matters but really only superficially. The script, credited to five writers including Dante Lam, could have included tougher conflicts and more difficult choices but much of the drama is ultimately very simple, with key character decisions predictably informing later plot turns (Thanks for the script notes, SAPPRFT!). The film does contain controversial details, especially Naw Khar’s use of child soldiers, who also do drugs and casually play Russian Roulette. There’s potential here for tougher human horror but little is done with these dark details, and they’re even used for more opportunities to make the Chinese heroes look awesome. Given that, plus the stereotypical portrayal of the Southeast Asian villains, it wouldn’t be surprising if some nationalities ended up viewing Operation: Mekong unfavorably.

Ignore these concerns and we get a kickass action movie that many audiences will surely enjoy. Action choreographers Stephen Tung and Jack Wong offer plenty of variety with their violence. Hand-to-hand combat is mostly utilitarian, but it’s fast and enhanced by gritty camerawork. Gunplay is impactful and there are kinetic chase scenes and car stunts galore. Non-action scenes are usually tense surveillance or undercover operations where action could, and often does, break out at any minute. Few individual action sequences in Operation: Mekong are really that impressive, but each serves up a nifty combination platter of action types, and there’s just so much of it! Action in this film comes at you pretty much non-stop – to the point where it’s sometimes laughable, e.g., after one exhausting stretch, the film cuts to Gao Gang and Fang Xinwu interrogating someone by dangling him from a flying helicopter. There’s no real lead-in, just a cut to a guy screaming in the air while Gao and Fang grin in the cockpit like B.A. Baracus and Murdock from The A-Team. These dudes sure do love it when a plan comes together.

The performances don’t offer the same excitement or unintentional humor, and are pretty standard overall. Zhang Hanyu could probably project astonishing integrity while playing a 7-11 clerk, and he easily wipes the floor with Eddie Peng, who’s not especially strong in the co-lead. However, Peng’s facial hair deserves special acknowledgement. At one point, Fang Xinwu’s wispy mustache and beard are revealed to be fake – he wears them as part of his cover identity – so when Fang rolls into the final operation sporting a porn star mustache, you have to ask: Did Fang Xinwu grow a real cookie duster specifically for the upcoming firefight, or did he break out the spirit gum and apply a fake one? Also of note: Gao Gang’s operation employs a German Shepherd named Bingo (played by canines Amigo and Zobra), and he predictably steals the movie whenever he appears. These observations are hardly signs of quality, but Operation: Mekong gets by on dumb entertainment value if not social or political responsibility. If the latter things are of paramount importance to you, then yeah, Operation: Mekong will leave you nonplussed. For everyone else, Dante Lam is your friend. (Kozo, 12/2016)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Panorama (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Original Language Track
Dolby Digital EX / DTS
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also available on Blu-ray Disc
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