Wu notches another flick in his personal quest to appear
in more films than any actor EVER. The fifth Daniel Wu film
this year, Devil Face Angel Heart is a collection
of ugly crime genre clichés by underrated director
Billy Chung. The end result is far from new or original,
but fans of Hong Kong crime fiction might find this enjoyable.
Wu stars as Lon, a disfigured
killer who works with his brother Kwan (Lam Suet). They
work for evil gang leader Dragon (Keung Ho-Man), but are
treated poorly. Lon, in particular, receives heaps of derision
thanks to his hideous form. Thankfully, Dragon's abused
moll Wendy (Gigi Lai) takes a shine to him. She's brutually
tortured and raped by Dragon nightly, and she finds some
solace in Lon's gentle nature. Lon decides to off Dragon
for her, which is no big deal because Dragon was going to
kill Lon and Kwan anyway to avoid having to pay them.
Meanwhile, hot young cops
Kent (Stephen Fung) and Dicky (Sam Lee) are on the trail
of some nameless gangster played by ubiquitous bit player
Joe Lee Yiu-Ming. He gets offed right away by Lon, which
puts the pair of Gen-X cops on his tail. They hope to find
Lon, but Dragon wants them both dead, so he sends Lon in
to kill them. So here's the scorecard: Lon wants to off
Dragon; Wendy wants to off Dragon; Dragon wants to kill
Lon, Kwan, Kent and Dicky; Kent and Dicky want to find Lon;
and Dragon's second-in-command Jimmy (Conroy Chan) has something
up his sleeve, too. Whew.
Surprisingly enough, the plot
doesn't wear itself thin from too many threads. From minute
one it's Daniel Wu's show and everyone else is left by the
wayside. He carries the film effectively enough, staying
well within his proven dramatic range. More surprising is
the fact that Stephen Fung has little more than a glorified
cameo appearance, and Sam Lee probably was on the film set
for only a day. Rising star Kelly Lin has the least interesting
role in the film. She has two scenes as Kent's girlfriend,
and does little more than show up 70 minutes into the film
(which clocks in at 87 minutes) and act concerned. Bizarre.
At least Gigi Lai gets lots of screentime.
Her role here is a bit meatier than her usual flower vase/abused
scenery parts, but she doesn't do much for women's rights.
In fact, the whole film has a rather unpleasant streak of
misogyny, though the filmmakers make sure to point out that
absolutely no one can be trusted. That's right: no one.
Lon's journey is fraught with backstabbing and betrayal,
but none of it is very surprising or original. Eventually,
Lon is reborn as a suave lady killer out for revenge, but
the transformation isn't a revelation. It's more like a
To his credit, director Billy
Chung seems to revel in the film's obvious pulp roots, spending
lots of time on numerous lurid close-ups of Gigi Lai's lips,
thighs and other assorted body parts. Likewise, Daniel Wu's
masculine form is treated with the respect usually given
to Calvin Klein underwear models. People walk in slow motion,
dialogue is kept to a minimum, and undue screen time is
spent on cigarette smoke. None of it really means anything;
it's just there to serve the trashy film noir atmosphere.
With all that in mind the film works, though it's not a
journey that everyone should take. Fans of Daniel Wu and
Gigi Lai will be happy with all the fan service, and there's
enough disturbing violence to please the red meat crowd.
But wait, there's also laughs.
Devil Face Angel Heart is also home to some of the
best subtitled howlers of the year, as well as plot points
that would make great midnight movie fodder. Lon's quest
for revenge earns him a sex-sifu, who teaches him
how to sexually enchant any woman he wishes. The wacky subtitles
are worse. When a soulful tale of betrayal is related, the
response is subtitled as "A goddam freaky bitch!"
Such inappropriate laughers are
welcome, since the film probably wouldn't work as a straight-faced
crime drama. Devil Face Angel Heart has a plot that's
like Crying Freeman crossed with The Elephant
Man, which is a combination that's far from pathos-inducing.
However, the genre trappings are familiar and the atmosphere
suitably sweaty. Those who enjoy trashy midnight cinema
might find some satisfaction here. (Kozo 2002)