'The Brink' Review: Simple Plot, Glorious Action (Fantasia 2018)

The quest for gold leaves people red all over.

The Brink

The quest for gold leaves people red all over.

There’s a tendency in action films to sometimes over-complicate the story with subplots, multiple twists, and more. When executed well they obviously add to the overall experience, but too often the extra density just bogs down the rest. The new Hong Kong thriller The Brink takes the opposite tact, and the result is a straightforward tale with intense and fantastic action.

Sai Gau (Zhang Jin) is a tough as nails, single-minded cop whose only goal is catching bad guys, and as the film opens he’s in the middle of doing just that. We’re dropped directly into a massive brawl that sees Sai Gau taking on multiple combatants and leading to the “accidental” death of one suspect who plummets from a rooftop. The detective is suspended and returns to the force six months later to find his partner A-de (Wu Yue) is retiring. He’s recently won a hefty jackpot and is set for life, but he has one last day on the job.

Before you can say “he’s getting too old for this shit” he’s been recruited by his reckless partner to stop a vicious gold smuggler named Jiang Gui Cheng (Shawn Yue) from extending his reach through a big theft and a violent uprising against his own big boss Kui (Japanese veteran Yasuaki Kurata). Track the gold smugglers, arrest Jiang, and everyone wins. Simple, and yet…

The Brink is a fast-moving thriller with blistering action set against some fresh backdrops far removed from the recent turn towards fancy high-rises, opulent offices, and other expensive-looking locales. The action here moves through grimy alleys, Hong Kong slums, and more before culminating aboard a ship rocking to the waves, rain, and wind of a typhoon. (Imagine George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg busting out with an elaborate martial arts fight during the third act of The Perfect Storm and you’ll be in the weather-drenched ballpark.)

The opening free for all sets the tone of the fights as they blend beautifully executed choreography and moves with brutal, brawl-like flailing. Another sequence sees the two cops armed only with flashlights as they take on dozens of knife-wielding baddies, and it’s a thing of beauty. Smaller scuffles and foot chases dot the film leading to its third act finale, and they work together to make this one hell of an action picture.

Director Jonathan Li makes his feature debut here after a career spent working as an assistant director on Hong Kong flicks like Infernal Affairs 3 (2003), Triangle (2007), and The Lost Bladesman (2011). It’s clear he’s learned quite a bit over the years and delivers a feature that’s arguably the best film he’s worked on. Similarly, writer Paco Wong makes his screenwriting debut after fourteen years of producing action classics like SPL (2005), SPL 2 (2015), and Paradox (2017) — which is the unofficial SPL 3 — and he delivers a streamlined film that manages to offer character beats without needing to bog down the film as a whole in the process. Simple, sure, but it’s also incredibly efficient and effective.

One notable fault worth pointing out rests with the film’s female characters. Jiang has an explosives-happy girlfriend (Janice Man), and Sai Gau is legal guardian to the daughter (Cecilia So) of the thug he killed in the beginning, and while neither character needs more depth they at least deserve names. Neither gets one though — at least via the subtitles — and it’s a shame as both bring good performances and interesting diversions to the film.

The Brink is one of the year’s best action films thanks to its numerous and beautifully executed fight sequences. We get some brutality from the bad guy, some reluctant heart from the hero, and a whole lot of ass-kicking, and that my friend is a perfect combination.

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