Back this time to a written review, and a film I was really looking forward to. Dante Lam has been responsible for plenty of great films in his career (and some not so great, but I will still defend the popcorn glory of “The Twins Effect” until my last breath), but has recently been on a really great wave, mostly when teaming up with Nick Cheung. So it is with great anticipation I popped this one in the DVD player…
“That Demon Within” opens with a nasty and violent heist, which leads ‘Hong Kong’s Most Wanted’ criminal Hon (Nick Cheung) to a hospital A&E. On duty there is rather intense Policeman Dave Wong (Daniel Wu), who by lucky filmic co-incidence has the same rare blood type. This selfless act however really does not impress Dave’s superiors. Not only that, but it becomes clear that Dave is a little uptight at best. His direct commanding officer (Christie Chen) actually turns out to be an old classmate, and she tries to help him by offering the psychiatric services of her sister. Dave though is much more interested in taking down Hon himself, and maybe not via the more official channels. He plays Hon’s old gang against each other, and as time progresses we see there might be a link between our two leads. Or maybe not. Dave really isn’t a well boy.
This is one dark movie. It’s really hard to sympathise with any of the characters, because other than Chen, everyone is painted with different levels of badness. Lam also lays on all the imagery fairly thickly, with lots of Demon masks and CGI fire showing a almost hellish version of Hong Kong. He doesn’t hold back either with a little bit of gore in the opening scene, although this realism soon makes way for something much more psychological. Now, let’s be honest, this one isn’t about subtly. And I can’t say the plot is either utterly compelling or even particularly original. Plus it’s awfully confusing. It’s sometimes not terribly clear about what is actually happening, and what is in Dave’s head. Even when certain things are revealed at the end? There’s plenty of room for debate and discussion. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I also feel that the part with Andy On may well have been telegraphed in terms of the story, but felt a little tacked on, and basically gave us a bit of a weak final act.
Performances? Minor characters are fine. Nick Cheung is great, though this really is him on autopilot. He has made psychopaths his thing for a while now. What is interesting though is that he actually is hardly in the film. The real star here is a Daniel Wu. Now I like Daniel Wu. He’s a perfectly good actor, though I would struggle to really say he is someone that I would watch a film because he was in it. But here? It is career defining. He apparently lost a ton of weight to play the role, and he is utterly compelling. His descent into utter madness is totally believable, you can see those demons in his character’s psyche battling behind his eyes.
I thought the film was fantastic. I enjoyed every minute. For me? Best Hong Kong movie I have seen for an age. I can accept the storytelling faults, because of the performances alone. So I am going to say highly recommended.
However, and I don’t often say this. But it will split opinion. Things are not straightforward. There is a whole part of the story that can be read in many different ways, most importantly around the prior relationship between Hon and Dave. You could blame this on clumsy storytelling. Because I think it is fair comment. I don’t believe the audience has to necessarily be spoon-fed. Plus there is the whole chance to discuss your understanding of what went on (and so difficult here when I want to remain spoiler-free). The themes can remain the same, but maybe a little clarity and some slight movement of scenes could have helped.
Anyway. I adored this film. It is my blog. It is my right! But I would be interested in hearing from any readers who might have an opinion?