For the most part, Taiwanese film industry is well known for its romantic films, dramas or comedies. Maybe only a handful films, if that, from the country would come to mind when thinking about entertaining action films that could stand toe-to-toe with its other continental cousins. Director Hung Tzu-hsuan, with his debut feature film “The Scoundrels”, aims to rejuvenate the Taiwanese action genre.

The Scoundrels” is screening at New York Asian Film Festival

Hot-headed Liao Wen-jui used to be a popular basketball player considered to be the next big thing in the sport. After a massive brawl at a game that effectively ended his career and resulted in a fan being hospitalised and Liao being stuck with the massive hospital bills as compensation, he has a phenomenal fall from grace, which forces him to take on any jobs to make ends meet. He soon finds himself working for a carjacking gang led by Hsiao-hei, sticking GPS trackers on targeted cars for them. 

His luck goes from bad to worse when one night he unwittingly goes to tag the car that is being used as a getaway vehicle by the notorious Raincoat Robber, the man responsible for the recent spate of bank van robberies across Kaohsiung that are carried out in the pouring rain by a man wearing a raincoat and helmet. Biao, as the Raincoat Robber says is his name, thrusts Liao Wen-jui into his car at gunpoint, while a bleeding woman is in the backseat, which leads to a series of events that could ultimately cost Liao his freedom and possibly his life, as the cops begin to close in on the two.

Hung Tzu-hsuan brings his short film experience, which almost exclusively included action films, to the feature film format and, for the major part, succeeds in creating a sleek and stylish movie that might remind audiences of its Korean or Hong Kong counterparts. The script, by Huang Chien-ming, is fast-paced and moves along at a pace that is just enough for the audience to keep up with. Hung doesn’t intend to be deep with the film or give a lesson on how crime is bad, but he succeeds in doing what he sets out to do: serve a stylish neo-noir that impresses as much with its visuals, courtesy of cinematographers Chen Ko-chin and Chen Chih-hsuan, as it does with its well-executed action scenes, which have been choreographed by Scott Hung.

Tonally, the movie is a bit inconsistent. The first half has a blend of humour with the action, mostly with dark undertones, which is refreshing but seems to disappear suddenly as the film leads into the second half, making its absence felt. Another problem with the narrative is its music, by Cliff Lin and Yang Wan-chien. The loud, thumping electric guitars and drums combination doesn’t always work and in fact often acts as a distraction in the action sequences. For genre fans, the few twists that are in the tale will also be fairly predictable, but there are not too many of them to be a major issue.

Acting across the board is wonderful, with JC Lin being excellent as the way-in-over-his-head Liao Wen-jui, bringing a vulnerability and likability to the character. But it is Wu Kang-ren, or Chris Wu as he is popularly known, who steals the limelight with his suave turn as Biao, making him scary and charming in equal measure. The audience never can quite figures out what is going on behind that smiling facade of his face. The two play off each other extremely well, which makes for a chief reason for the film working as well as it does. In support, singer/actress Nana Lee is adorable as Shin-jie, Liao’s doctor girlfriend, Malaysian actor Frederick Lee brings the laughs as boss Hsiao-hei, whereas legendary actor Jack Kao makes his presence felt as Chen Mu, one of the two police officers hot on our leads’ heels.

Ultimately, “The Scoundrels” ends up being a far more than serviceable action film. Hung Tzu-hsuan has, on an evidently small budget, managed to make a film that impresses with its strong visuals, fast-paced action and above-average acting. The director is undoubtedly ready to move on to bigger endeavours.