Divergence



Reviewed by Lee Alon

Just like its Hollywood contemporary, the fabled jewel of the east, also known as Hong Kong, shovels mouthfuls of filler in the general direction of its loyalist audiences. And similar to fluff done anywhere else, HK's variety also comes in the irritating form of polished, well-supervised products with at least acceptable technical merits and yet little beyond.

We recently had two mega-stars like Andy Lau and Jacky Cheung suffer through the mediocre episode Jiang Hu, further thrashing the over-strained underworld genre, and here comes a Benny Chan flick to additionally burden the cops and crooks theme with uninvited baggage. At least in Chan's case the memory of capable actioner New Police Story still lingers, so we'll forgive him the helming of Divergence and its, in essence, vacuous content and pretty embarrassing conclusion. You'd be right in expecting more from Chan and his writer cohort Ivy Ho (who previously penned classic July Rhapsody), but nonetheless both failed to come up with any worthy goods this time around.
Presumably, Divergence gets its moniker from the three main personages operating inside the film's confused and unfulfilled promise. Suen (Aaron Kwok) is a sarcastic police officer working various, rather high-profile cases, at least one of which we witness going bad with the baddie under Suen's protection buying the farm in a gruesome fashion courtesy of the second main character, a hitman known simply as Coke (Daniel Wu, who lost some weight and much appeal in a role that's beginning to smack of typecasting). Coke's success and Suen's misfortune set in motion a series of events that supposedly want to point out the ironic nature of life, the universe, and whatever the people counting box office returns happen to report. The terminated criminal that Suen was sheltering leaves a mean triad boss (Gallen Lo) feeling a whole lot better about things, but ultimately lands everyone in more trouble since the latter's enemies soon move to equalize by retaliating against his family.
This sort of complication doesn't make Suen's life any easier as he tries to focus on capturing renegade Coke and his sultry female accomplice (done by mainlander Ning Jing).  Defending the underworld elements is attorney To Hou Sung, done by our favorite hunk Ekin Cheng, and here completing the triumvirate of male leads. Although silent and reserved, To quickly gets on Suen's nerves, and not just for his application of the law as an excuse for things one would sooner sweep under the floorboards. There's another element figuring in, further showing us how intertwined the trio is and why even minute occurrences can have repercussions much later down the line, hence Divergence. The factor in question is naturally a woman, and one who perhaps has been missing for the better part of a decade. It's the apple in the eye of cop Suen, an ex called Fong, portrayed with minimal gusto by gorgeous Angelica Lee. The disgruntled cop obsesses over his former lover and her vanishing all those years ago, even though we don't see much of their relationship other than contrived, hokey memory sequences and Kwok's miserable cry fest moments as fortified with extra-dumb instances of pseudo-animalistic howling. Was there really a need for such mundane clichés?
As if that wasn't enough, someone had the brilliant idea of encumbering Suen with several idiotic attempts at self destruction, resulting in him miraculously surviving and changing cars about as often as you do socks. Must have been quite the improvement in HK auto insurance since we last looked into the matter. Plus, the music people, bless their souls, thought it prudent to include one of the cheesiest collections of sentimental overtures one has heard in a long, blissfully quiet time. It's all enough to make you reach for the hurl bag.
And as we sit through the travails of Suen and his struggle with shadows of the past, it becomes apparent none of the main characters gets enough space to mature and grow, thus the various pieces never click. This trickles down to supporting figures like Ning Jing and too-prolific Eric Tsang as a jolly, noodle-slurping police medical examiner who never loses his appetite no matter how grisly the stiffs. Ha ha but not all that funny, thank you.
Not even the action itself lives up to whatever high expectations you may have of this project, if any. The fighting's pretty lame and basic, there's little gunplay, and the car chases seem to use the same beat up Mazdas you've seen in scores of older HK movies.  But probably the biggest disappointment comes when the thing finishes, with characters coming out of nowhere to reach an easy, convenient and utterly ridiculous ending that somehow explains the various "enigmas" you were supposed to fuss over during the plot. But of course there was no fussing at all, seeing as how can anybody care about a story lacking in so many departments to begin with?
At least for Divergence Angelica Lee looks her best yet, so for all thus inclined mayhap there's some incentive to watch yet. On all other counts, Divergence misses the mark big time, leading down paths of inadequacy any film buff needn't even consider following.

Rating: 4/10

Directed by Benny Chan
Starring Aaron Kwok, Angelica Lee, Ekin Cheng, Daniel Wu, Ning Jing
2005, Cantonese/Putonghua, 95 minutes

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