Taiwanese cinema has been on the rise during the latest years, with a number of excellent films such as “The Great Buddha Plus“, “The Bold, The Corrupt and the Beautiful” , “Godspeed”, “Gatao 2” and many others, all of which thrive both in context and aesthetics. It was time, however, for a blockbuster-style action thriller to come out, with all the pros and cons associated with the category. Let us take things from the beginning, though.

High Flash” is screening at the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival 

Fisherman Ah-Hai is found dead of self-immolation during a village protest against a petrochemical company, an incident which instantly makes media headlines. Medical examiner Chou is assigned to work on the case with Public Prosecutor Jin, who happens to be Chou’s former fiancé. They quickly suspect that Ah-Hai did not intend to self-immolate. As they seek to uncover the truth, Chou and Jin become entangled in a web of complicated business and political maneuvers, risking their personal safety and well-being, all the while having to deal with the reasons the latter abruptly ended their relationship.

In a style much similar to Korean action thrillers, Ching Sheng Chuang directs a movie that tries to work on multiple levels, combining a story with many plot twists with social commentary, along with elements of action and drama. The story is in fact intriguing, as Chou and Jin’s research reveals more and more secrets and connections between the capital and the political leadership of the area, while the shocking aspect derives from the role of the (poor) locals, who, in this case, are not as innocent as they are usually presented, although their actions are justified, to a point at least. Furthermore, another shock comes in the last half-hour or so of the film, with a truly unexpected turn that actually provides the catalyst for solving the case.

 

However, the problem with the film is that all of the above, although intriguing, seem somewhat forced upon the narrative, since the story is actually filled with clichés, but Garance Li Wen Wang, who wrote the script, tried desperately to include some elements that would make the movie stand out. This effort is quite obvious and actually takes a toll on the movie, with the script becoming somewhat disconnected and far-fetched, stripping the twists of the impact they could have.

This issue extends to the characters, which are very difficult to empathize with or even understand their actions, with the reason behind the end of the relationship being the highlight of this tendency. The aforementioned effort extends to this aspect, as the writer, in order to avoid having a cliché happy- ending, went overboard with the story. His motives are commendable, but I felt that the direction stripped this twist of the impact it could have.

The casting also heightens this sense, since, although Kang Ren Wu as Chou and Yi Ti Tao as Jin do their best in their parts, the fact remains that they seem too beautiful and too “undamaged” for the parts they are playing and the way the story progresses.

The production values, on the other hand, are top notch, with the cinematography highlighting the plethora of different settings in the best fashion, through a number of “polished” images. The editing follows the general rules of the action thriller, inducing the film with a rather fast pace and some well-placed flashbacks.

“High Flash” is not a bad film, but the elements it includes are so much visited, both in Hollywood and Korean cinema, that it feels as if it has very little to offer, while the direction does not do much to erase this sense. However, if you are in a mood for an “easy” watch, an action thriller flick if you prefer, “High Flash” will definitely deliver.

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