Love Battlefield
Hong Kong 2004
Directed by Soi Cheang.

Director Soi Cheang has made a name for himself in Hong Kong of late by delivering quality horror films that feel at least a somewhat original and that are well crafted. He has taken his craft to the next level with LOVE BATTLEFIELD, improving in all aspects on his previous efforts, but at the same time exposing his fatal flaw: being utterly unable to come up with a satisfying ending. Like Horror Hotline: Big Head Monster, once again the DVD offers two different endings (one is tucked into the special features of the disc and is unsubtitled), neither entirely satisfying. LOVE BATTLEFIELD drops the supernatural horror of his previous two efforts and replaces it with the horror of being kidnapped by violent, mainland criminals.

Eason Chan is a nurse whose relationship with his girlfriend (Niki Chow) seems, after a romantic beginning, to be going nowhere fast. They live their lives in seperate spheres, she at the TV, he at the computer, or vice-versa. She plans a trip to Europe, but has to pay for it herself because he lent all his money to his less than responsible friend (Raymond Wong). The morning of their trip, they find their car has been stolen. She wants to go anyway, he wants to go to the police, it's the last straw and they end up breaking up. On his way to the station, he sees their car, and gets out to retrieve it, only to end up captured by the criminals who stole it in the first place. They force him to treat their comrade, who has taken a gunshot wound to the stomach.

From here on, Eason Chan tries to keep the gangsters alive with his medical care in order to keep himself alive, and at the same time tries to keep his girlfriend away from the action so that she doesn't get caught as well. The criminals (led by Wang Zhiwen and Qin Hailu, as his very pregnant wife) get increasingly dangerous and desperate until the end.

The acting is superb throughout. Wang Zhiwen and Qin Hailu deliver excellent performances as expected. Something more of a surprise is just how great Eason Chan is here. After seeing him in a string of comedies in which he hardly even seems to be trying (If U Care, Demi Haunted), his performance here is something of a revelation and perhaps a career best. Niki Chow likewise demonstrates considerable growth as an actress, and Raymond Wong, as a very odd friend, manages to craft a believable, if eccentric, supporting character. (The weakest performance is from Kenny Kwan of the band Boy'z, as another friend).

LOVE BATTLEFIELD never forgets that it is about relationships first, action second, though some of the action set-pieces are excellent (don't watch the trailer to avoid spoilers). "I've done more for you guys than I've ever done for my girlfriend," the nurse realizes in frustration at one point. At another, Wang Zhiwen simply tells him that his life has been far "too easy," and so he doesn't cherish what he has. LOVE BATTLEFIELD is not quite Soi Cheang's masterpiece. We can hope that film is still in his future. But it is an extremely well made, intensely emotional human drama, and is highly recommended.

Rating: Highly Recommended (Highly Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on January 17, 2005.

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