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(left) Rene Liu, and (right) Karena Lam face off in Kidnap.

Chinese: 綁架
Year: 2007
Director: Law Chi-Leung
Writer: Cheung Chi-Kwong, Matthew Tang Hon-Keung
Cast: Karena Lam Ka-Yan, Rene Liu, Julian Cheung Chi-Lam, Eddie Cheung Siu-Fai, Guo Tao, Xiao Bao, Him Law, Chan Si-Wai, Ella Koon Yun-Na
The Skinny: Entertaining and ridiculous. Great leads, a decent premise, and an air of unpredictability make Kidnap seem like a winner. That victory is only partial, however. Kidnap doesn't really go anywhere, but at least the ride is good.
by Kozo:

When we last left director Law Chi-Leung, he had just finished slumming with the EEG-funded Isabella Leong vehicle Bug Me Not. The film's genre - candy-colored kiddie fare - seemed a bit odd for Law, a director previously known for edgy commercial cinema like the entertaining Double Tap and the excellent, if overwrought Koma. Previous to release, Bug Me Not seemed to be an odd fit for Law, and after release, the movie was revealed to be the cinema nightmare that we all expected it to be. Luckily, Bug Me Not star Isabella Leong has since become arguably Hong Kong's most promising young actress, mostly due to her excellent performance in last year's Isabella. Law Chi-Leung has seemingly disappeared from the radar - that is, until now, with the release of his new thriller Kidnap. Is this Law's comeback, or have singing animated bugs ruined him forever?

On paper, Kidnap is a slam dunk: the film has Law Chi-Leung returning to his best genre, with two excellent actresses, Karena Lam and Rene Liu, in the leads. Those factors alone should make Kidnap must-see Hong Kong Cinema - and it pretty much is, though one must also factor in 2007's disturbing lack of cinema quality. This has been a bad year for Hong Kong movies, and Kidnap's gripping pace, good performances, and commercial polish make it a seeming oasis in a sea of unfortunate mediocrity. Sadly, the film also possesses many missed opportunities, including a screenplay that isn't fully developed, some uninteresting subplots, and a CG-enhanced climax that's more laughable than anything else. Add up all the above and you have a watchable ride that pretty much goes nowhere. Basically, there's good and there's bad, and neither side really outweighs the other. If you view a glass as half-full, then Kidnap could be just your thing.

Kidnap opens quickly, in the midst of a tense kidnapping case presided over by Inspector Ho Yuen-Chun (Rene Liu). The brother of dance instructor Lam Hiu-Yeung (Karena Lam) has been kidnapped, and the case goes spectacularly awry despite the cops following the kidnapping playbook to the letter. Cut to three years later, and Lam has seemingly moved on from her personal loss, and has even befriended one of the cops from the case, Chi (Eddie Cheung). However, Lam's husband needs an expensive operation, and Lam plots to get the money through, fittingly enough, a kidnap ransom - only this time Lam is the one doing the kidnapping. Her target is the son of wealthy businessman Mr. Wang (Guo Tao of Crazy Stone), and she seems to be in complete control, with every part of her plan precisely laid out. Lam even seems to relish the fact that her opponent will be Inspector Ho Yuen-Chun, who approaches the case with her trademark professionalism. With the pieces and players in place, the game of cat and mouse beings. Will Lam be able to extract the ransom and gain revenge on Ho Yuen-Chun for failing her three years ago when she was the victim and not the perpetrator?

The acting from the two leads is probably Kidnap's biggest immediate asset. Karena Lam delivers a measured performance, giving her character an assured confidence that starts to crack as her crime begins to unravel. The first wrench in the works in an obvious twist, but after that the film takes on an air of unpredictability that proves gripping. Not only are we not sure what will happen, but we're not sure what Lam Hiu-Yeung is truly capable of. The character could be just a kidnapper, or she could be worse, and Lam's performance is canny enough to raise doubt and fear in the audience. Matching Lam is Rene Liu, who adds a similar layer of unpredictability to her character, and is pitch-perfect in conveying the character's growing desperation. As the case begins to fall to pieces, Ho Yuen-Chun's stake in the kidnapping grows personal, and the cat and mouse game that develops proves exciting and even emotional. Law Chi-Leung keeps the pace constant, such that the film continues to hold the audience's attention for a good solid hour.

However, after that hour, the house of cards that Law has built begins to grow shaky. The plot, initially solid in detail and execution, starts to wear thin. Red herrings and plot holes appear, and characters begin acting in sometimes idiotic ways. Lam has the best material to work with, as her character arc at least remains consistent. Liu, however, is saddled with an unconvincing subplot involving her ex-husband (Julian Cheung). Their relationship is decently explained, but their supposed reconciliation seems to happen offscreen, and when we're stuck on the characters' personal lives, the film noticeably sags. Liu also has the tougher character arc, which the filmmakers develop in perhaps too broad a manner. The key to Liu's character is how far she'll go to settle the kidnap case, but her flirtation with amorality isn't gradually developed. As a result, she appears to become too unstable too early, such that her later, more extreme actions don't carry the weight that they should.

The themes of "how far would you go" are the saving grace and the ultimate undoing of Kidnap. Lam and Liu's characters find themselves in tough positions, and their eventual actions hint at themes much darker than one would expect from a commercial film. It's just a hint, however, and the film ultimately sidesteps the thematic complexity that it proffers. Based on the themes present, there should be a purpose or a symmetry to Kidnap that brings everything full circle. However, everything simply ties up with a narrative resolution, meaning that what we get is just the end of the story. On one level, getting that much is just fine, but this story is full of holes, and it ultimately doesn't justify all the paces it puts its characters through. What's left is a film that simply starts, continues and ends, and doesn't answer its most pressing thematic questions. This isn't really a story, it's a ride.

That said, the ride really isn't that bad. In fact, it's a pretty entertaining one, albeit not to the depth that one might hope for. Law Chi-Leung keeps his eye on the ball most of the time, and delivers a relatively tight thriller that delivers on its superficial promises. The film keeps a fairly high tension level, and the music from Tommy Wai is effective - that is, when it's not bombastic or ripping off Ennio Morricone's classic theme from The Untouchables. Sadly, Wai's score does the latter quite noticeably, which could hurt the experience of anyone who recognizes the stolen riff. Further hurting the cinema experience is the film's CG-assisted climax, which not only looks terrible, but resolves everything in too convenient and arbitrary a manner. But, analyzing the film this much may be playing into the "glass half empty" view of things. If one considers everything, including the good performances, solid tension, and the fact that 2007 Hong Kong movies have largely been crap AND Law Chi-Leung's last film was in a photo finish for "Worst Film of 2005", then Kidnap is pretty okay. The glass is half-full over here. (Kozo 2007)



DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese subtitles

image courtesy of Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen