Brink, The

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 03/11/19 10:00:28

"Max Zhang doing kung fu on land and sea."
3 stars (Just Average)

SCREENED AT THE 2018 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Max" Zhang Jin is certainly well-positioned to be the next big Hong Kong martial-arts star, fresh off a couple fight-scene-stealing turns against Donnie Yen and Wu Jing & Tony Jaa, the sort that make you want to see more of the guy playing the villain. Of course, it's worth remembering that Wu's first starring roles after similar parts weren't exactly impressive, and that's where Zhang finds himself here: Physically gifted, showing enough acting chops beyond fights to suggest star potential, but not yet getting cast in the good lead roles yet.

Instead, he's in this, playing a rule-breaking cop hunting down gold smugglers who are much more interesting to watch before one starts consolidating power and taking charge. It's not quite boring, but it feels like a script built around location availability and what needs to happen, but not really fleshed out otherwise. Zhang's "Sai Gau" Chan Har-dong is often given more intensity than personality, and a subplot about adopting his late partner's daughter but not exactly being an attentive foster father that should say more about this guy but instead feels like it's been copied from another script where it fit better. There's more meat on the story of Shing (Shawn Yue Man-lok), a smuggler disrespected by the triads who see him as only the son of a fisherman, and who intends to steal the chief's underwater cache of gold.

There's a good movie in there, but I kind of suspect that it stars Shawn Yue; there's intrigue and melodrama and a clear motivation to his desire to clean house and pull off a seemingly impossible crime. He's got a colorful, fitting villain, too - triad boss Blackie (Yasuaki Kurata) never leaves his floating casino, and that ostentatious wealth makes a more interesting contrast to Shing and his gang than Shing does to Sai Gau. It's not hard to imagine Lee Chun-fai's script reconfigured to place Shing at the center, with Sai Gau the obsessed cop chasing him, especially if you can put more of a square focus on the nobler parts of his motivations.

Not that Sai Gau ever feels extraneous or that you'd want to take his stuff out. Zhang has enough charisma to not be sunk by the script, and certainly cuts an arresting figure who can plow through his part of the story and make it watchable. Rogue cops are a dime a dozen, and Sai Gau can occasionally come across as a parody of defiance, but Zhang is able to run with it, occasionally managing a little more, like showing the shame feeling of unworthiness that lies beneath his brusque treatment of his foster daughter.

Oh, and he can fight. Zhang may be a relative latecomer in terms of graduating from stuntwork to featured player and now to leads, but once he's in action, it feels like he should have been a star much earlier. The underwater kung fu maybe doesn't work out so well, but Zhang is great in close quarters, especially when you consider that some of these fights are taking place out at sea and one can see that he isn't exactly standing on stable ground. There's a pretty great chase over, around, and through the boats in the harbor, and it certainly doesn't hurt that the filmmakers are willing to get crazy at just about any point. They know the audience is coming for action, so even a low-key sort of moment might get interrupted by an explosion or two.

Those particular moments come courtesy of the extraordinary loyal girlfriend who shakes tails by chucking homemade bombs out a car window, and who doesn't even get a name in the subtitles. She's the number one "show me more of HER" thing in the movie, much the way Zhang has been in others. I guess you've got to pay your dues - it probably won't be long before Zhang is the next big thing and we're laughing over some of the steps he needed to take to get there, and who knows, maybe Janice Man Wing-san won't be far behind.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.