Black & White Episode I: The Dawn of Assault 痞子英雄首部曲：全面開戰
Contemporary action thriller
2012, colour, 2.35:1, 153 mins
Directed by Tsai Yueh-hsun (蔡岳勳)
By Derek Elley
Wed, 27 June 2012, 09:15 AM (HKT)
Taiwan's first action blockbuster is a fiasco, redeemed only by Mainland comic Huang Bo. Beyond Chinese-speaking territories, only needy Asian and genre events.
Harbour City, somewhere in Asia. Southern Precinct Homicide Division detective Hero Wu (Mark Chao) catches a gang of security-van robbers and makes headlines with his flashy, maverick methods. As a result, he is sent for anger-management counselling and temporarily taken off any cases. Meanwhile, Hsu Ta-fu (Huang Bo), a member of Sanlien triad who's looking to retire, decides to make some extra cash for himself while his boss is away in Vietnam for five days. After borrowing US$1 million from Sanlien colleague Yuan (Jack Kao), he plans to cut a deal on some illegal diamonds, sell them immediately for US$1 million profit, and quietly return the original capital to Sanlien untouched. Unfortunately, a paramilitary SIS squad arrives at the handover of the diamonds to Ta-fu, and in the shootout both the case with the diamonds and the one with Ta-fu's US$1 million go missing. Hero, who is following events against his boss' orders, arrests Ta-fu and the two go in search of the missing items. Also on their tail is SIS Captain Ou (Alex To), who wants both Hero and the case with the diamonds. Staying one step ahead of Ou thanks to help from Hero's colleague Midori at the precinct, Hero and Ta-fu follow a trail that leads from Fan Ning (Angelababy) to Ta-fu's object of desire, Tu Hsiao-ching (Terri Kwan), to mysterious broker Jabar (Leon Dai). En route they discover the secret concealed by the diamonds and a complicated conspiracy involving the Pandawa terrorist organisation, Harbour City's organised crime and top government officials.
A big-screen prequel to the popular 2009 Taiwan TV drama, Black & White Episode I: The Dawn of Assault 痞子英雄首部曲：全面開戰 represents an embarrassing failure by the island's movie industry to re-enter the big-budget action-thriller league after the setback of Double Vision 雙瞳 (2002). Mark CHAO 趙又廷, reprising his role as maverick cop Hero Wu, is the only member of the original TV cast to make the transition, making this effectively a standalone film that requires no knowledge of the 24-part TV series (which teamed Chao with F4 boybander Vic CHOU 周渝民). In theory, that's all fine, especially as Chao has developed as an actor in the intervening years (Monga 艋舺 (2010), Love 愛). Unfortunately, the series' original director, TSAI Yueh-hsun 蔡岳勳, and his screenwriter Kelly CHEN 陳慧如 also made the transition rather than yielding the project to experienced movie-makers. The result is a big-budget, two-and-a-half-hour fiasco of shapelesss direction and amateurish scriptwriting, redeemed only by the presence of Mainland comic HUANG Bo 黃渤 as Hero's new, offbeat "partner".
Set in an unnamed country and in the fictional Harbour City — which bears an amazing resemblance to Taiwan's second city, Kaohsiung — Black & White has a plot that starts as a "simple" diamond trade but mushrooms into one involving police and government corruption, international terrorists, computer files, and an anti-matter bomb. Basically, the script by Chen and Tsai is one long chase-cum-offbeat buddy movie in which characters stop every quarter of an hour or so to explain the plot to each other (and the audience).
This would be excusable if the bits between had (a) some chemistry between Chao and Huang, and (b) some well-staged, decently shot or moderately suspenseful action. Unfortunately, they have none of the above: Chao, who's never seemed so wooden, and Huang, who's never been so skittish, seem to be acting in separate movies. When Huang is on screen, the movie is bearable, as he appears to be sending it up; when he's not, it starts sinking rapidly, and is not even bad in a fun way. The score by composer Terdsak JANPAN เทิดศักดิ์ จันทร์ปาน (Secret 不能說的秘密 (2007), Ong-Bak 2 องค์บาก ２ (2008)) is feeble at building suspense. And even the photography by ace Taiwan d.p. Mark LEE 李屏賓 is lacklustre, with lighting that manages the considerable task of making Mainland model-turned-actress Angelababy 楊穎 look drab and with colour that seems garish for no good reason.
Supporting performances are routine, led by actor-director Leon DAI 戴立忍 as a mysterious smoothie; Terri KWAN 關穎 looking elegant but being spurious to the plot; Angelababy in a misconceived role that's half-computer nerd, half-action figure; and Macau-born, Italian-Karen twins Dino and Julio Acconci (of rock group Soler) as a pair of crazed killers. The rest of the cast is dotted with Taiwan names and entertainment celebrities, such as Ken LIN 阿Ｋｅｎ as a psycho with a very nasty knife.
After the film has been running some 70 minutes, Angelababy's character explains the whole plot to that point, which is extremely useful. By then it seems the ending is in sight; in fact, the movie is still only half over, with more shootouts, big explosions and a finale in a hijacked Boeing 747 that alone lasts a full half-hour. Despite all the special and visual effects (reasonably handled, in a cartoonish way), the film simply gets worse and worse, as if the production team simply threw their hands up in the air and went for broke.
In his first feature, TV drama director Tsai is simply out of his depth, and attached to a script that seems to have been cut and pasted. Much of the reportedly US$11 million budget is on screen, though not necessarily made the best of by the direction. Plot points are still being resolved during the end titles, where scenes that appear to have been squeezed out in the editing (by the original series' CHOU Hung-yi 周弘宜) run alongside to the cast/crew list.
The film's original title translates as Punk Hero Part I: All-Out War. The version released in China is shorter by 11 minutes, which still offers little relief.
ContactSales: Hero Movie, Taipei (email@example.com)
Theatrical release: Taiwan, 13 Jan 2012.
Presented by Hero Movie (TW), Prajna Works Entertainment (TW). Produced by Prajna Works Entertainment (TW). Producers: Tsai Yueh-hsun, Yu Hsiao-hui.
Script: Kelly Chen, Tsai Yueh-hsun. Photography: Mark Lee. Editing: Chou Hung-yi. Music: Terdsak Janpan. Production design: Max Huang. Costume design: May Sun. Action: Cyril Raffaelli, Nicky Li. Visual effects: Chung Chih-hsing, Jack Ho (Part 3 Digital Art Design (Shanghai)).
Cast: Mark Chao (Hero Wu), Huang Bo (Hsu Ta-fu), Angelababy (Fan Ning), Terri Kwan (Tu Hsiao-ching), Leon Dai (Jabar), Alex To (SIS Captain Ou), Jack Kao (Yuan), Ken Lin (Tung, the weird killer), Dean (Li Che-yong), Dino Acconci, Julio Acconci (killers), Lin Yu-chih (Bao), Fox Hsu (Er Bao), Hsiu Chieh-kai, George Wu (Jack), Matt Wu, Hsia Ching-ting, Mountain, Jason Tsou, Chien Te-men.