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Overheard 3
Overheard 3     Overheard 3

(left) Louis Koo, and (right) Zhou Xun and Lau Ching-Wan in Overheard 3.
Chinese: 竊聽風雲3
Year: 2014
Director: Alan Mak Siu-Fai, Felix Chong Man-Keung
Producer: Derek Yee Tung-Sing, Ronald Wong Ban
Writer: Alan Mak Siu-Fai, Felix Chong Man-Keung
Action: Dion Lam Dik-On

Lau Ching-Wan, Louis Koo Tin-Lok, Daniel Wu, Zhou Xun, Michelle Ye, Huang Lei, Gordon Lam Ka-Tung, Alex Fong Chung-Sun, Dominic Lam Ka-Wah, Kenneth Tsang Kong, Ng Man-Tat, Huang Yi, Samuel Kwok Fung, Ben Yuen Foo-Wa, Wilfred Lau Ho-Lung, Tony Ho Wah-Chiu, Felix Lok Ying-Kwan, Vincent Kok Tak-Chiu, Chin Kar-Lok, Vincent Lo, Lung Tin-Sang, Candy Yuen Ka-Man

The Skinny: Third in the surveillance thriller series takes hot-button Hong Kong issues and reduces them to plot devices for a bloated and overcomplicated family corruption saga. Overheard 3 is never as good as it tries to be, but remains entertaining in patches thanks to its terrific acting and attempts at relevance. You know, just like the other two Overheard movies. An OK end to an OK film series.
by Kozo:
Time for more listening. The Overheard franchise returns for its third iteration, imaginatively-titled Overheard 3, with series grandmasters Alan Mak and Felix Chong again presiding over the super-actor triumvirate of Lau Ching-Wan, Louis Koo and Daniel Wu. As usual, this is a surveillance thriller with no actual interest in surveillance. Don’t expect an exploration of eavesdropping ethics; the hidden cameras and bugs are purely plot devices for this power-and-face saga about money and how Hong Kongers cheat, steal and wiretap to make even more. Following the lead of Overheard 2 this threequel mines local issues with its focus on the Small House Policy, which stipulates that male heirs of indigenous New Territories villages receive one land grant within their lifetime to build a small house. The policy is the source of local controversy, as it was enacted in 1972 by the British to improve housing in the New Territories, and beneficiaries aren’t always building houses with that land. Given Hong Kong’s hot-button real estate issues, there’s potential here for a film that’s actually somewhat relevant.

Dial down those expectations. While Overheard 3 does deal with the Small House Policy (called the “Ding House Policy” in the subtitles, “ding” being Cantonese for male son) and its effect on some people in the New Territories, it doesn’t advance much of an opinion on the issue. Screenwriters Mak and Chong instead use the policy as a plot device, and reserve their main focus for a sprawling family epic with enough history and enmity to shame a Godfather film. The story concerns the extended Luk Clan, who’ve decided to pool their land grants (called “Ding Grants”) and ally with mainland investor Wan (Huang Lei) to build their own high-rises, thus blocking out Hong Kong’s “Four Big Developers”, the incumbent mega-money land developers represented by the slimy Szeto (Ng Man-Tat). However, Luk Clan member Yuen (Chin Kar-Lok) withholds his Ding Grant, so the four senior Luk brothers and family head Uncle To (Kenneth Tsang) decide to off Yuen. For the good of the family, distant Luk Clan member Jau (Louis Koo) does the deed and makes it look like manslaughter.

Five years later, Jau exits prison but things have changed. Uncle To is planning on taking his business, the New Territories Land Company, public but he’s using the Luk family’s land grants and they’re unhappy about not getting shares. Meanwhile, the IPO is stymied by the Four Big Developers, and the Luk Brothers, led by eldest son Keung (Lau Ching-Wan), are still lording over the villages using a combination of corruption and douchiness. Jau immediately falls back in with the Luk Brothers, but he’s actually working for former flame Yu (Michelle Ye), who’s Uncle To’s daughter and has a particular interest in the proposed IPO. Helping Jau is Joe (Daniel Wu), an IT technician and hacker who provides all the tapped phones, hidden cameras and wi-fi security breaches that Jau requires. While their end goal is initially obscured, Jau and Yu monitor the Luk Brothers for an angle, a weakness or maybe a clue as to what they will do next. Joe, meanwhile, swigs beer and sometimes watches people have sex on his monitors.

If you have a hard time understanding the relationships, motivations and secret alliances in the Luk family, you’re probably not alone. Overheard 3 is incredibly over-complicated, with an elaborate web of relationships that could use an annotated family tree to get straight. The complications increase the further the film proceeds; as Overheard 3 introduces its insanely-connected cast of characters, it adds backstabbing and double-crosses between key members, and even Joe gets drawn into the intrigue when he develops an unspoken affection for Moon (Zhou Xun), a member of the Luk Clan whose decency and hard-working character is potentially compromised by her difficult past, which – duh – is also related to Luk family drama. Overheard 3 is basically the stuff of a 60-episode TV show but jammed into only 130 minutes, such that it occasionally substitutes exposition and explanations for actual drama. Some key emotions get watered down; Jau is supposedly in this whole mess for Yu, but their connection doesn’t stand out, especially when the characters share so little screen time.

What’s left is a comparatively prosaic story about how people shouldn’t be pricks because of money or face. Characters like Moon and Auntie Gil (Law Lan) exemplify that with their down-to-earth attitudes – and each is pretty much portrayed glowingly. The rest of the characters are mostly shown negatively. Joe gets some latitude because of his weakness for earth goddess Moon, and one major character has a pivotal moment of conscience, but otherwise Overheard 3’s characters are a legion of jerks. More humanity amidst the greed and self-involvement would have given the audience someone to root for. Or, the film could have gone the satirical route and cynically painted all of humanity as practitioners of suck. However, satire has never been in Alan Mak or Felix Chong’s wheelhouse, and they don’t capitalize on the details involving real estate, politics or increasing social problems facing the New Territories. The film provides examples of those issues, but no real opinion or assertion of cause-and-effect. Stripped down, this is a standard yarn about a large crappy family.

The film does cater to Hong Kongers with drawn-from-the-headlines meta-references. Many characters are based on real-life public figures and some dialogue and situations also reference actual incidents. The Four Big Developers are of course totally real, so any mention of their criminal activities is a sly talking point for locals. The actors are more successful than anything, however. In their new roles, Lau Ching-Wan, Louis Koo and Daniel Wu enjoyably change-up their character dynamic from previous Overheard films. Koo is solid and Wu does the most with his comparatively little screentime, while Lau registers the strongest as a character who’s both a charismatic bully and a lovelorn dope – sometimes even in the same scene. Zhou Xun shows both heart and soul in a role that once upon a time might have been earmarked for Maggie Cheung. Zhou provides her own Cantonese dialogue too, which is its own revelation. The Luk Brothers are entertainingly played by scene-stealing veterans Gordon Lam, Dominic Lam and bowl-cut-coiffed Alex Fong. Michelle Ye, Kenneth Tsang, Law Lan also get stand-out moments.

The actors are so good that more time could have been spent with each, but that might have ballooned Overheard 3 to a three-hour-plus epic – an uncomfortable idea considering the past work of Alex Mak and Felix Chong. The two get actors and performance well, but they’re not strong storytellers. The film could use more set pieces to break up its family drama, or perhaps a POV character to make the exposition less obvious. Given its lack of commercial flourishes, Overheard 3 might also be a tough slog for less attentive audiences. The all-hands-on-deck demolition derby climax does provide some pyrotechnics, but it’s patently ridiculous, with too many characters suddenly appearing in cars knowing exactly who they should smash into. For its actors alone, Overheard 3 is still entertaining commercial cinema and is appreciably more ambitious than the previous Overheard films. But for what’s billed as the “final” Overheard film, this threequel leans towards disappointment. The silver lining: This is not the last time you’ll see Louis Koo, Daniel Wu and Lau Ching-Wan in the same movie. (Kozo 6/2014)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Panorama Entertainment
2-Disc Special Edition
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Track
Dolby Digital EX / DTS ES
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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