ContactSales: Media Asia, Hong Kong (firstname.lastname@example.org) [Southeast Asia]; Pegasus & Taihe Entertainment, Beijing (email@example.com) [Rest of World]
Theatrical release: China, 9 Jun 2013; Hong Kong, 12 Jun 2013.
Presented by China Film (CN), Pegasus & Taihe Ubiquitous International (CN), Media Asia Film (HK), Phoenix Satellite Television (HK), in association with China Movie Channel, ChangYou.com/Jing Mao Film, Emei Film Group, Phoenix Legend Films, Zhejiang Zhicheng Guoran Cultural Development, Rejoy Culture. Produced by China Film (CN), Pegasus & Taihe Ubiquitous International (CN), Media Asia Film (HK), Hangzhou Municipal Government (CN), Sino TV (CN), Xin Shengshi Cultural Communication (CN), Propaganda Department of Fuyang CPC Municipal Committee (CN). Executive producers: Han Sanping, Li Changle, Peter Lam, Jay Sun. Producers: Zhao Haicheng, Shen Xue, He Lichang.
Script: Jay Sun. Photography: Shao Dan. Action photography: Don McCuaig. Editing: Du Hengtao. Music: Roc Chen. Production design: Cui Ren, Ji Peng. Styling: Lawrence Xu. Sound: Lu Ke, He Wenfu. Action: Bob Brown, Zhang Peng. Martial arts: Gao Xiang. Visual effects: Jay Sun, Yang Pengju. 3-D visual effects: Chuck Comisky. Second unit directors: Bob Brown, Zhang Peng.
Cast: Andy Lau (Xiao Jinhan), Tong Dawei (Yamamoto Toshio), Zhang Jingchu (Lin Yuyan), Lin Chi-ling (Wang Xueqing/Lisa), Siqin Gaowa (The Empress), Zhang Guangbei (Commissioner Kong), Shi Tianqi (Witch in Black), Zeng Linshu (Aries witch), Luo Wenbo (Taurus witch), Seven Tan (Gemini witch), Wang Ruizi (Cancer witch), Vanessa Wang (Leo witch), Li Wan'i (Virgo witch), Cherry Wang (Libra witch), Bahaguli Rehemutula (Scorpio witch), Ariel (silent princess), Zhang Lei (Big Man), Che Yongli (female teacher), He Minghan (male assistant), Izumi Liu (young woman), Xia Minghao (Dazi), Xu Gehui (Phoenix TV reporter).
Contemporary action drama
2013, colour, 2.35:1, 3-D, 122 mins
Directed by Jay Sun (孫健君)
By Derek Elley
Thu, 13 June 2013, 09:15 AM (HKT)
Big, trashy, pan-Chinese action drama is entertaining enough at a popcorn level. Asian and genre events.
Dubai, 2011. A British gang of international smugglers, led by Roger, plan to steal the priceless scroll painting Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains, created by Huang Gongwang in the mid-14th century. The painting was torn in half during the Ming dynasty; one section is now in Zhejiang Art Museum, China, and the other in the National Palace Museum, Taiwan. Also after the painting, for personal reasons, is Japanese yakuza Yamamoto Toshio (Tong Dawei). The two groups of thieves clash in the National Palace Museum, and Yamamoto's team of female assassins, led by the Witch in Black (Shi Tianqi), are defeated and the British make off with the goods. Hong Kong anti-smuggling special agent Xiao Jinhan (Andy Lau) is assigned by his boss F to head Operation Switch to retrieve the painting, which is due to be exhibited whole for the first time in the National Palace Museum on 1 June. Separately, his Mainland wife Lin Yuyan (Zhang Jingchu), who works for Beijing-based insurance company PICC, is assigned to protect the section lodged in the Zhejiang museum. During its transfer to a special vault, supervised by police commissioner Kong (Zhang Guangbei), the painting is stolen by a third interested party, led by The Empress (Siqin Gaowa), who has offered to help Yamamoto. Jinhan is assigned a glamorous new partner, Wang Xueqing, aka Lisa (Lin Chi-ling), and told not to follow The Empress but to go to Dubai. After the two retrieve the half held there by the British, Jinhan goes to meet Yamamoto in his palace-like HQ in Japan and is almost killed by Yamamoto's deadly female assassins. Yamamoto gets the half of the painting, not knowing that Jinhan earlier switched it for a forgery. Three months later, after secretly recuperating in Hong Kong, he's officially declared "dead" by his bosses, along with Lisa, and goes off the grid, living in a small village in China. Ten days before the planned exhibition of the whole painting in Taiwan, Yuyan is told by her boss in Beijing to make progress on the case. Yamamoto, meanwhile, has discovered the half he has is a fake. Finally, Jinhan is reactivated by his boss - and then makes a surprising discovery about Lisa.
Whatever Jackie CHAN 成龍 can do, Andy LAU 劉德華 can do better. Kind of. Like Chan's recent CZ12 十二生肖 (2012), Switch 天機・富春山居圖 is an art-smuggling action extravaganza that wears its international credentials on the outside — but that's where the comparisons end. CZ12 was aimed squarely at kids and basically existed to make its director, star, scriptwriter, producer and action choreographer look the best he could at the ripe old age of 58. Switch is aimed squarely at adults (plenty of slinky sex and high-end consumerism) and, though it stars Lau and makes the 51-year-old actor look good, it's not just about him. With a key cast from the Mainland (ZHANG Jingchu 張靜初, TONG Dawei 佟大為), Hong Kong (Lau) and Taiwan (LIN Chi-ling 林志玲), dialogue in Mandarin, English and Japanese, and locations from Dubai to Hangzhou, Switch is bigger, trashier, more show-offy and fractionally more entertaining at a popcorn level — though there's no real emotional involvement with the characters and the effect wears off as soon as the lights go up.
Switch is basically a producer's film, a slick, manufactured package that shows the roots of writer-director Jay SUN 孫健君, here making his debut behind the camera in his late 50s after a decade in the US and almost two decades back in the Mainland working in TV and as a producer on glossy New China rom-coms like Call for Love 愛情呼叫轉移 (2007) and Fit Lover 愛呼２：愛情左右 (2008). Taking its cue from Bollywood rather than Hollywood — more Shah Rukh KHAN than Tom CRUISE — it's two hours of big-name antics, big-budget effects, and Big China braggadocio. The reported RMB160 million (US$26 million) budget is up on the screen in every scene, the script hardly makes sense as it zooms from Hangzhou to Dubai, Fuyang to Tokyo, but it moves like an express train and is dumb, sexy, slickly staged escapism that doesn't pretend to be anything else.
Originally set to be released late last year, and delayed several times since then (partly due to the decision to convert it to 3-D), Switch emerges with its violence considerably toned down — judging from earlier trailers which contain scenes not in the final film, especially those featuring its louche Japanese villain, gleefully played by Tong in a long white wig. There are also signs that some plot detail got thrown away in getting the movie down to two hours: the storyline has some giant potholes, and some sections (like the sojourn of Lau's character in a Chinese village) look like they've been trimmed to the bone.
One of the few Chinese stars of his generation who can do charm, action and drama, and still look good in a tuxedo, Lau anchors the movie as a Bond-like character negotiating a professional wife, a seedy super-villain, a glamorous vamp and cohorts of deadly female assassins — all with one eye pitched on a possible franchise. In her first big-budget action movie, Zhang (The Road 芳香之旅 (2005), Aftershock 唐山大地震 (2010), Lacuna 醉後一夜 (2011)) brings more character to her role of the wife than the script deserves and acquits herself okay in action scenes, while Tong (The Flowers of War 金陵十三釵 (2011), American Dreams in China 中國合伙人), here in his first villain part, has a lot of fun with the super-yakuza who has serious mother-love problems and a penchant towards torture. But it's Taiwanese actress-model Lin Chi-ling (Red Cliff 赤壁 (2008), Love on Credit 幸福額度 (2011), Say Yes! １０１次求婚) who matches Lau in class, as an exotic vamp who switches her wardrobe as fast as her loyalties. Lin finds her level in Switch, and gives it a style that is suitably over-the-top.
Action, co-staged by US stunt director Bob BROWN, is just fine, and martial arts ditto, supported by high-gloss widescreen photography by lead d.p. SHAO Dan 邵丹 (Sky Lovers 天上的戀人 (2002)) and top-class VFX. When it's not laughably using chunks of Elgar, Roc CHEN 阿鯤's score acceptably keeps the movie's pulse pumping. The 3-D conversion adds notable depth to the action, and especially to the lavish sets for the yakuza's pleasure-dome, without too many in-your-lap distractions. Though they're only a relatively small part of the movie, the Dubai sequences are among the most memorable: if for nothing else, Switch will go down in history as the first film to feature a car chase through a seven-star hotel.
The film's Hong Kong version is nine minutes shorter, with cuts including the friendship of Lau's character with a young girl while in a Mainland village and a beach scene between Lau and Lin's characters.