Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Connected (保持通话)

Help I Need Somebody!

When we hear of remakes, we lament Hollywood raiding Asian content, repackaging and most of the time dumbing them down for mass consumption, often to dismal results. Some get A-list cast and crew attached, while others put whoever's the flavour of the moment to attempt to be the next scream or drama queen. With Benny Chan's remake of Hollywood's Cellular, I guess the remake street cuts both ways now, and while I had enjoyed the original with Chris Evans running around like a headless chicken, I embrace this version with Louis Koo in the leading role wholeheartedly as well.

As with any self-respected remake, you take key premise and scenes and mirror them somewhat accurately, stamping your unique mark on them and providing some creative spin. But what Benny Chan did in addition to that, was to throw in lots of space, so much so that it doesn't get confined to just a particular location, but uses a wide berth which is Hong Kong, from the highlands to the airport, as the playground of choice. While it runs longer than the original, you'd suspect that it either has repetitive scenes, or moments of monotony which would drag it out, since the original was quite compact with wall-to-wall action. Connected has none of that, and still maintains enough moments of thrills and spills, even for those who had watched the original and likely to guess the twists and turns.

For the uninitiated, Barbie Hsu plays Grace Wong, an engineering genius, worked into the plot such that it would be reasonable for someone of her calibre to craft a makeshift phone from spare parts. Compared to the more elderly version of the damsel-in-distress played by Kim Basinger, Hsu brings forth a more energetic interpretation, not to mention a younger one too as it provides some background rooting for a hint at possible romance, since she's a single mom, and Louis Koo's single dad character, despite them spending the bulk of their screen time apart from one another. Koo plays Bob, a debt collector whose relationship with his young son is on the brink of disaster given his string of broken promises, but gets a call out of the blue requesting for urgent help.

While Chris Evans may have started off his character quite cock-sure of himself, Koo's Bob here is pretty much mild mannered and timid, until such unusual circumstances bring out the tiger in him when he begins to find some courage to assert himself, in the face of irritants like a salesman from hell, and a loud mouthed convertible driver. There are little nuances put into Bob that credit has to go to Louis Koo for making it more three-dimensional, in having a guy rely on extraordinary luck to see him through challenge after challenge, of being quite clueless and one step behind for the most parts, not to mention a moments of internal tussle he suffers to decide whether to risk it all for the strange caller, or to ignore the desperate plea for help in order to save his own relationship with his son.

Apple for apple comparison, the remake counterparts held their own in contribution to the movie. While we don't have a Jason Statham as the no-nonsense baddie henchman, we do get a more charismatic Liu Ye as the chief villain, and in spite of hiding his face behind shades most of the time, he does send enough fear to the opposition, and makes quite a fine villain, although not particularly a memorable one. There are enough material here to have three concurrent narrative points of view running along, with that of the captive, the seeker, and the meddler, where Nick Cheung's off duty cop PC2004 (a cheeky reference to the year the original Cellular was released) had more to chew on, compared to his Hollywood counterpart.

The action scenes here were a little throwback to the 80s Hong Kong cop shows where heroes and villains get to duke it out in old school fashion in the final act, without police intervention until the show's literally over, but there were a couple of stunts that raised a few eyebrows. An indestructable Nissan March tearing through the streets of Hong Kong might seem a scene from Mr Nice Guy where a truck full of Pepsi got ripped through, but one of my personal favourite sequence, though short, was a full follow through of the characters right into an unexpected glass panel (I guess Benny still has a penchant for smashing glass).

If you've not seen the original, then you might just want to start with the remake instead. It surpasses in its intensity, frustration, and the leads, while almost never sharing the same scene together, individually made themselves very believable as the damsel-in-distress, and the knight in shining armour. Benny Chan adds a whole lot of fresh air to his filmography with this effort, even if it's from remake territory and adopting the same way to close the credits, but does an excellent job out of it.

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