Genre: Detective Thriller
Director: Benny Chan
Cast: Aaron Kwok, Ekin Cheng, Daniel Wu, Gallen Lo, Angelica Lee, Ning Jing, Eric Tsang
Packed with a powerful all-star cast, Benny Chan's Divergence topped the box office easily when it premiered in HK in April. However, the reaction just cooled down quickly and the grossing was eventually surpassed by the smaller budget melodrama 2 Young. While it would probably by too arbitrary to make such a hassling judgment, I would tend to believe that the reason for its moderate response was mostly due to director Benny Chan's overzealous ambition in finding out a turning point to transcend his career as a director. Starting from Heroic Duo in 2003, Chan was already not satisfied with sticking with the old school action movie formula, he was always asking for more by experimenting with combinations of different cinematic elements and genres. This time, Chan again spends very much time on the script, and in fact, the drama portion of the movie is handled even more remarkably well than the action. That might explain why those expecting a lot of Chan's trademarked explosions would feel disappointed with the movie.
Different from many typical HK action adventure movies, the plot of Divergence is very complicated. The relationships of the characters are like a big intertwining web. It centers on Suen (Aaron Kwok), a cop who is almost on the brink of mental breakdown. After a failed attempt to escort a suspect, he is determined to dig out the truth of a bigger criminal plot. On the other hand, rich merchant Yiu (Gallen Lo)'s son is reported missing, and Suen, Yiu's lawyer To (Ekin Cheng) and bounty hunter Kuk (Daniel Wu) are all inevitably involved in the case… Director Chan is always famous of his superb ability of handling multiple characters and bringing out their charisma. For instance, we have the highly humorous police team in Big Bullet, the three heroes and villains in Heroic Duo and the cops and bandits in New Police Story. Despite having a lot of characters on hand, Chan always knows how to make them look equally captivating in the movie. This time again, all of three main leads are impressive as they all have very strong personalities that are easily recognizable.
While the characterizations are attractive in a superficial sense, unfortunately, one of the biggest flaws of the movie is that the share of the depiction of such characters doesn't really seem to be very well balanced. Some of the characters like To and Kuk are never fully developed. No doubt both of them look cool and charismatic, they just don't really feel solid or complete. Despite his incredible first appearance in the beginning, Daniel Wu's Kuk and his part are simply a big "divergence" that has nothing to do with the main plot, which is such a big waste. Scenes depicting Suen's mental disorder also seem to be dragging.
As I mentioned above, Benny Chan is probably looking to evolve his filmmaking approach in this movie. The most noticeable change of style is the use of long take and the much more delicately designed compositions. Despite the few chasing and fight scenes (which isn't really a bad sign as the quality is still very good), most of the dramas are presented in a little slow-paced and patient manner. The shots are generally in longer duration as compared to most typical HK action movies, and the compositions are also very well crafted, that if you just take a look at some of the scenes separately without knowing what movie it is beforehand, you may even think it is extracted from a Wong Kar Wai film.
Aaron Kwok as the protagonist is persuasive. Apart from some overacting problems here and there, he generally proves to the audience that he is capable of handling this demanding role. But frankly speaking, I still prefer his surprising performance in Throw Down a little more. Ekin Cheng and Daniel Wu have also done a satisfactory job, but as I said before, their characters are less likeable as they don't feel complete. Gallen Lo offers a moderate surprise as the villain. Always known as the good or compassionate guy in TV drama, it is good to see that Lo is offered an opportunity for a makeover on the big screen, which he successfully pulls off. Again, just like any other Chan's films, female characters are seriously played down and there really isn't much Angelica Lee and Ning Jing can do.
I wouldn't say Divergence is a very successful film. Nevertheless, it is a work that unequivocally demonstrates director Benny Chan's determined mind and painstaking effort in exploring and refining his filmmaking achievements. Just by that alone, it already makes me admire Benny Chan more and look forward to his upcoming project in the future.
Cool guy(s) - Gallen Lo
Reviewed by: Kantorates