Action / Adventure, China, Films, Recommended posts, Reviews, Suspense / Thriller

The Liquidator

4 stars

心理罪:城市之光, Xīnlǐ zuì: Chéngshì zhī guāng. China 2017. Directed by Xu Jizhou. Starring Deng Chao, Cecilia Liu, Ethan Juan, Ailei Yu, Vicky Chen, Karena Lam. 123 mins. In Mandarin with English subtitles.

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A serial killer acts according to the netizen’s will in Xu Jizhou’s Se7en-esque exhilarating action thriller…

Last year, while still floating in our New Year’s Eve celebrations hangover, we were excited about Zhang Yimou’s The Great Wall upcoming release. A new era of Chinese blockbusters was casting its shadow upon us westerners… and it actually did, at least in my opinion, but not in the way we all expected. The Great Wall bombed at the box office, but 2017 gave us well-crafted macho Wolf Warrior 2 and it ended its run in China with Xu Jizhou’s The Liquidator, in UK theatres from the 5th of January.

Adapted from Lei Mi’s novel Evil Minds: City Light, Xu Jizhou’s debut on the big screen after a successful career in television has already been hailed as the Chinese version of David Fincher’s Se7en, and rightfully so.

Fang Mu (Deng Chao, Duckweed, The Mermaid) is a criminal psychologist in the police force, summoned by his colleague Mi Nan (Cecilia Liu, Brotherhood of Blades, Badges of Fury) when a crime scene turns weirder than expected: a teacher had been chained to a desk and given a few hours to solve a math problem and survive.

He won’t, obviously. The ritualistic nature of the murder requires an expert and Fang Mu can’t say no to a challenge offered by a killer who claims to be the Light of the City, a beacon in dark times arrived to bring justice when the police cannot. Using social network trends to understand where the hatred is addressed, the mysterious murderer embarks on a killing spree aided by the public opinion, offering them in sacrifice those who wronged and ended in the spotlight.

As if killing them wasn’t enough, the Light of the City puts his victim through the same pain they caused, voluntarily or not, in a theatrical way much like the killer in Se7en or Jigsaw did in their respective films, or Dante wrote in his Inferno.

However, this is only the first half of The Liquidator, at first introducing itself as a fascinating whodunit playing similar keys to those well-known US movies, then changing into a duel of masterminds: Fang Mu vs the Light of the City. Fortunately, Xu Jizhou didn’t plan to entertain us with two hours of questioning, long plot expositions through the most absurd evidence found at a crime scene, he sets us on a path to enjoy a film that can show more than one set of skills.

The Liquidator is both an entertaining action film and a captivating thriller – despite its not-so-little issues with CGI – and, we have the duty to point it out, doesn’t shout out the comparison with Se7en just because of its similarities in the narration. Xu Jizhou is not David Fincher, but for a debutant, he did an amazing job as the director of this much-awaited adaptation (Lei Mi’s novels went straight on my to-read list), by focusing a lot on his actors and their role on the set.

It was especially clever the introduction to Fang Mu, a witty profiler that could have easily been dismissed as the same-old cliché of the genius cop, but is instead just a mix of good intuitions and cleverness that could be achieved by his colleagues too.

He is just better at his job, yet not enough to be the perfect cop someone envisioned, understandable and appreciated by his fellows in the law enforcement, and Xu Jizhou does not fail in showing his humane side, apart from his personal story. Deng Chao will then be able to add another successful character in his sky-rocketing career, even if the makeup department could have definitely done a better job if they seriously aimed to pile up a few more years on his face. Grey hairs are not enough.

Anyway, these are small details easily dismissable when the story flows naturally, the characters are not too much unrealistic, the action is well choreographed in, sometimes, amazing sets and the cinematography is spot on.

If I have one issue that is the finale. I accept the way it ended, it couldn’t have been otherwise, but the cheesy morale was maybe a little bit too much. I can’t and don’t want to say more, The Liquidator has to be seen and appreciated in all his twists.

One more thing before I let you go buy the tickets: I loved Ailei Yu (Mountain Cry, Black Coal, Thin Ice), the more I see of him, the happier I become. Among the whole cast members, he is the one I appreciated the most.

The Liquidator is released in UK cinemas from 5 January 2018, released by CineAsia.

About the author

Fausto VernazzaniFausto Vernazzani Fausto Vernazzani
Once upon a time in a country not so far away (named Italy) there was a Fausto who was always watching movies but without really loving them – until he saw some movies directed by some unknown guys like Kim Ki-duk, Park Chan-wook and Takeshi Kitano.... More »
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