Tzu-Hsuan Hung’s debut feature-length film ‘The Scoundrels’ is like a combination of Michael Mann’s odd-couple crime drama ‘Collateral’ (which starred Tom Cruise as an uber-competent career criminal and Jamie Foxx as his unwitting sidekick) combined with the frenetic energy of Hong Kong crime flicks directed by the likes of Ringo Lam and Andrew Lau. Basically, it’s a whole lot of fun.
Hot-headed Ray (JC Lin) is a professional basketball player until a brawl at a game effectively ends his career. With a fan hospitalised and Ray stuck with footing the bills, he has to take on a job as a parking officer to make ends meet. Desperate for cash and being not too bright, he soon finds himself working for a carjacking gang led by Hsiao-hei (Frederick Lee), sticking GPS trackers on targeted cars for them.
After a fight in an underground gambling den loses Ray his money and his watch (along with getting him shot in the leg with a nail gun), his luck goes from bad to worse when he unwittingly goes to tag the car that is being used as a getaway vehicle by the notorious Raincoat Robber, a smooth criminal responsible for a recent spate of bank van robberies across Kaohsiung. Like Robert De Niro’s impeccably-controlled thief in Mann’s ‘Heat’, this bad guy is all discipline, his energy taut and controlled. Ben (Wu Kang-Ren), as he later identifies himself, thrusts Ray into his car at gunpoint, with a hostage bleeding in the back seat.
A veteran cop (Jack Kao) is convinced that fallen celebrity Ray is their man, whereas his more earnest partner (Shih Ming-Shuai) gives more credence to Ray’s story. Meanwhile, Ray’s loyal girlfriend (Nana Lee Chien-na), who seems to think he really might be guilty, resolves to stand by him anyway.
Despite his obvious fear, Ray finds himself warming to the strangely jovial Ben. The criminal gets philosophical about his agenda and encourages Liao to embrace his darker nature while the other man, aware of his own flaws, remains unconvinced that criminality is a reaction to an unjust society.
JC Lin is excellent as the fiery-but-decent Ray, while Wu Kang-ren is suave and charismatic as Ben. As the thief begins to plan his next robbery, a bromance begins to blossom. ‘The Scoundrels’ becomes something of a long, dark night of two souls as Ray becomes inextricably involved in Ben's nefarious schemes - it's an interesting (if underdeveloped) character study that also works in triplicate as a film noir and a road movie.
‘The Scoundrels’ becomes something of a long, dark night of two souls as Ray becomes inextricably involved in Ben's nefarious schemes - it's an interesting (if underdeveloped) character study that also works in triplicate as a film noir and a road movie.
The script by Huang Chien-ming is fast-paced (although it ditches the mismatched buddy comedy vibe about halfway through) and allows Hung to impress with some inventive action set pieces (choreographed by Scott Hung) and impressive camera tricks, courtesy of cinematographers Chen Ko-chin and Chen Chih-hsuan. The visuals are slick - in neo-noir fashion, coastal Taiwan is all rain-drenched moonlit streets, gleaming spires and shiny hospitals. Like ‘Collateral’, it’s a film about architectural space and seeing parts of the city that you don’t normally - in this case Kaohsiung’s alleys, overpasses and high-density architecture.
Aside from the sudden shift in gear tonally between its two halves, Hung’s debut is a confident, impressively staged and (most importantly) fun action movie from a country that rarely produces them with this much aplomb.