Finally at the LAST post for the Fantasia Film Festival 2014. Fantasia has been over for more than a week and due to my own personal scheduling (and life in general), I haven’t gotten around to writing as quick as I’d like to. The last movie I saw was last Tuesday with Hong Kong action psychological thriller, That Demon Within. It stars two of my favorite actors in the industry, one of them have really been picking up some amazing projects and I’m still trying to catch up with all of his recent works. Hong Kong flicks were scarce in this year’s festival and I stop to wonder if its appeal is really not there anymore. Either way, I hold a special love for the Hong Kong movie industry and I’ll talk a bit more about it when I dive into the review.
Lets start with a little synopsis first!
Director: Dante Lam
Cast: Nick Cheung, Daniel Wu, Ka Wah Lam, Kai Chi Liu, Andy On, Stephen Au
Dave Wong (Daniel Wu) is a generous and dutiful cop and despite all that, he has been transferred to many departments due to his unstable personality to bond. His desire to follow the rules makes him into someone that others have a hard time working with, however, unknowingly, he ends up donating blood to the leader of the robbery gang leader, Hon Kong (Nick Cheung) and saving his life while the police, specifically Inspector Mok’s (Ka Wah Lam) team having been trying to track him down. This causes Dave to become obsessed with trying to investigate the whereabouts of Hon Kong and his crew called Demon King Gang, and in the process stirs up a few demons hidden within of his own from the past.
First of all, I’d like to say that I’m extremely happy that Hong Kong entertainment has started branching into this. There is no doubt that Hong Kong action has had a lot of praise. After all, we can the success just by the appeal that Jet Li and Jackie Chan has. Both very different but nonetheless, very good at what they do, action and martial arts. However, Jet Li and Jackie Chan may be great stunt and action stars but they are not very great actors however the industry has built on some very good actors and expanded the world of action and thrillers into the psychological area. That is my favorite type and thats what makes me even more excited and its for exactly that reason that I chose to see this one.
If you think I’m bad at directors in Hollywood, which I am, I’m even worse with the new ones thats surfaced in the last 10 years or so. After doing some research on Dante Lam, I happen to own a few of his directing efforts. On top of that, his last hit Unbeatable (which is sitting on my shelf waiting to be watched) hit the festival circuit and did very well from what I’ve heard. He’s worked with a lot of Hong Kong stars that I love and honestly, I’m growing to like his style: the dark atmosphere he gives and the action is set up pretty good as well. The whole world of stirring up demons, psychological issues, struggling with the inner demons is done very well here so I give him applause.
Although Dante Lam has brought on Nick Cheung, the villain in this movie, for many of his projects before as his lead, in That Demon Within he is given a lesser role with less screen time but there is no doubt that his character is extremely important to play opposite that of Daniel Wu who plays the main lead. Nick Cheung’s role as Hon Kong is chilling and crazy. It impacts the audience maybe at times even more than the character development that Daniel Wu’s role Dave has to go through as he literally melts down from struggling to embrace his past and deal with his present.
With that said, this is an ambitious concept and one that I truly love. This is supposedly inspired by a real case that occurred, however Dante Lam’s decision to add in the Demon King and the elements of fire make this movie intriguing to see. There are certain meanings behind fire and Hell and it proves even deeper in the world of Buddhism and the many levels of Hell. Even more than that, if you’ve dabbled in the Hong Kong movie world, you will know that this movie has a few veterans playing the Demon King gang and Inspector Mok and even a previous Shaw Brother actor in a small role as the father of Dave. There are some notable names in here.
The Demon Within is a lot of things: a psychological character analysis, action thriller and some even would say its in the film noir/horror area as well. Thats a lot of places to hit and it may be this reason that it hinders how I could possibly judge this movie. Mostly because when I step into a movie with each of these specific genre, my expectations prove to be different. This one took me a little by surprise. Plus, there are parts which stretches out a little too much, some useless and rather confusing parts were added. Although some people were laughing at the ending as they exited the theatre, for once, I actually believe it was the best way to do it.
Overall, I appreciated The Demon Within. I enjoyed what I saw and I liked what it was trying to do. The setting, the atmosphere, the background music and even the casting of the main guys, Nick Cheung and Daniel Wu and even a few of the other roles was spot on. My main issue was the length. At about halfway, I started wondering if the story was going to ever start. Maybe the building up of the character development took longer than expected or maybe it felt like for a little bit there was a lot more details than I needed, but Dante Lam does take the time to wrap it up nicely and he does some very adrenaline pulsing and fantastic action scenes. This is no doubt a dark movie and it will have you thinking of what direction its heading into. I felt like it took a little while to find its footing but once it did, it picks up the movie and turns it into a whole lot more than you’d normally expect.
If you do like Dante Lam or Hong Kong action thrillers, I’d definitely recommend this one to you. Its really a refreshing take on adding more elements to the traditional action thriller making it more dark and deep in what its trying to say. Sure, its by no means the best action thriller I’ve seen but its heart is in the right place and for that, I believe its worth a chance.
What do you look for in action thrillers? Do you like Hong Kong action movies and if so, have you seen a lot of them? Can a film be multiple genres and succeed or is that trying to be too much?