The Replacement Suspect (2001)

Directed by: Marco Mak
Written by: Marco Mak, Simon Loui, Ricky Fan & Angela Yu
Producer: Daneil Lam
Starring: Julian Cheung, Kenny Bee, Michael Wong, Christine Ng, Simon Loui, Roy Cheung & Sonija Kwok

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A robbery, led by Rick (Julian Cheung) with his partner (Roy Cheung) and elder brother (Simon Loui) goes wrong at the very last minute and the three flee into a bar in Yuen Long where they take hostages. The police are already on the streets however, trying to nail an arms dealer by the name of Wong (Kenny Bee) and he's also coincidentally meeting someone at the very bar where now a tense situation has been created. Inspector Kong (Michael Wong) leads the tactics in solving the situation from the police perspective...

Some of today's considered B-movie profiles gather up for or have been gathered up by director Marco Mak (Slim Till Dead, Colour Of The Truth) for this, yes, low-budget B-movie, the arena where most involved tend to only get work in now, some deserved, some undeservedly so. But Mak makes the best of the situation and predictably gives us a slick ride that only occasionally this time around is enhanced via the wild, visual mind that also is Marco Mak.

The Replacement Suspect utilizes little locales as you might've guessed so it's evident not much was spent but Mak and his team of writers, working from a story idea by Simon Loui (although reports across various reviews states Kevin Spacey's Albino Alligator acted as a pretty literal influence for Simon Loui as he developed the story. Oh well...), gets off to a good starting point for the genre by planting some potentially good seeds for a twisting narrative. Soon confined to the Jurassic bar, you're not surprised that Mak logs no marvelous class akin to Dog Day Afternoon or even Derek Yee's classic People's Hero but even with nothing at hand in terms of reasons and character, the tension is well-handled and surprisingly shot very straight. An odd factor because Mak often initially in a narrative attacks ferociously with his visuals in a way that also often spells a desperation and a disbelief in his material. Here he, co-writer/co-star Simon Loui in addition to Ricky Fan and Angela Yu actually do try to bring in a deep rooted psychological aspect to why Julian Cheung's Rick and his brother have chosen the path in life they're on. Rick is the one given up on dreams, the cynic for very feeble reasons while his elder brother, the voice of reason is someone who wants to steer them on a correct path again.

All well in intent but Mak realizes that it's not the movie for deeper arcs, and especially not in such a pale performer like Julian Cheung. Admittedly, Mak infuses a cold-hearted violent nature to Rick that works during some periods but no real effect comes out of Cheung's central role. Which is not all that of a disadvantage for The Replacement Suspect as it manages to continually log the odd worthwhile moment of tension, character and even acting for it to make it into Mak's increasingly large catalogue of decent little films. Simon Loui and Christine Ng, playing one of the hostages, probably deserves the best acting honors in the film, especially Loui who further shows he's quite adept at low-key emoting and his connection with the continually switching strength and desperation of Ng's Fong becomes a memorable part of the film. Kenny Bee also gets easy directions to work off of as he's consciously a background character with a stone cold demeanor and while no challenge, Bee lives up to it effectively. However his connection with Fong remains underdeveloped and an inclusion that never really pays off. As a hostage drama concerning the characters and actors mentioned and analyzed, Marco Mak remains on top of the decent-pile after the scores has been collected and summed up.

However his work sinks quite drastically and into comedic territory thanks to the casting of Michael Wong and Roy Cheung. Evidently tired of trying to make Wong speak Cantonese for ALMOST an entire film (that would be in The Blood Rules), Mak just let Wong run with his English dialogue with relatively little Cantonese mixed in, creating the usual leader of the force with no distinct characteristics at all. Although some age old commentary about the media's involvement and the heads of the police force trying to come off good in their decisions during this situation sneaks in, it's not writing Mak and company have spent time on. Although Wong has one wonderfully funny scene with the reporter Vivian (Sonija Kwok) where he gets to embody the police force dissatisfaction with sensationalistic journalism. If given the right attention, Wong could be funny more times in the future.

Roy Cheung, clearly a talented actor despite over the top turns (Prison On Fire, School On Fire) but also low-key ones (Beast Cops) goes completely overboard and I'm confident in blaming Mak for his direction here. The requisite psycho of the group, Cheung logs no intimidation in his OTT ways and sadly brings in laughter into the room, something no one clearly was striving for.

The Replacement Suspect may be ever so slightly below the scale of decent filmmaking that Marco Mak in my mind usually associates himself with, much thanks to some questionable decisions in terms of acting direction and character development. On the other hand, it's a fairly fast moving, tension filled time where surprisingly Mak's visual sense mostly goes on holiday. The main acting doesn't disrupt but it's the co-stars that better embody Mak's intentions in commenting on the psychology of a criminal but overall, The Replacement Suspect won't be remembered for its attempts at depth. It is decent however and I still like that word when talking Marco Mak, simply because it's true..even though this particular film may easily earn the grade "rip-off of Albino Alligator" from most.

The DVD:

Universe presents the film in an 1.76:1 framed aspect ratio approximately. Little print damage turns up but a slight smeary nature haunts the transfer as well as poor black levels. Colours remain solid as well as sharpness so for the price, it does ok.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 track remains very centered throughout but dialogue and other effects comes through clearly. A Cantonese DTS 5.1 track as well as a Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 dub is also included.

The English subtitles got some very minor errors and presents a well-worded translation. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.

The extras consists of Star's Files for actors Julian Cheung, Michael Wong and Simon Loui. Cheung's goes all the way, detailing his singing and acting career plus all manner of personal facts that Universe deemed useful (blood type, hurrah). Michael Wong gets an informative bio, focusing on his struggles in the industry as he's more perceived as a Westerner. Loui gets an equally informative write up. The trailer for the film is also included.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson