Walk In (1997)
by: Herman Yau
at the Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards 1998:
You have to give Herman Yau kudos for trying to stay true to Hong Kong cinema. Not just by actually staying in the industry (I doubt he's had any Hollywood invitations though) but staying true to the Hong Kong cinema way of doing things. The mentality of putting a little bit of everything into one film, no matter how contrasting they are, have always been embraced or seriously alienated people over the years of following Hong Kong film. For Walk In, Yau pushes the genre-mixing to quite an extreme. Is it a supernatural thriller? Yes. Is it a romance? Yes. Does it have action? Yes. Reincarnation? Yes. Comedy? Yes. How many readers are already turned off?
A young woman (Wu Chien-Lien) jumps from a rooftop building to her death but not before explaining to the police and onlookers that she's headed for reincarnation or a "walk in" with someone she calls Old Wise Guy (who apparently resides in cat currently). Witnessing this is cop Tommy Cheung (Dayo Wong) and his girlfriend Laura (Yu Li) who thinks no more of this, until fate strikes that is. Tommy is shot and paralyzed during a gunfight with Lo Bill's (Vincent Wan) gang of robbers. Laura turns to the Old Wise Guy, now in the young woman's body, to reveal the secret of performing the walk in. They select comatose Chicken (Danny Lee), who was shot during the same robbery, as Tommy's subject for reincarnation but life does not turn out to be perfect after the walk in is a success. Laura has no feelings for Tommy in his new body and Chicken was a miserable triad loser that Tommy now needs to maintain...
If you're still reading then something must've triggered your curiosity. Herman Yau have rarely logs quality efforts on a consistent basis but have been able to, through low-budget means, experiment around with all kinds of stories. Walk In represents a risky venture in a way as it's more consciously blends genre staples such as gunplay, car stunts and situation comedy with reincarnation (or the titular walk in). More often than not in movies, Yau strands at the decent level as well but there ever so slightly seems to exist a notion here that all these generic elements leading up to the reincarnation doesn't have to be any good or even decent, just generic. That way, the serious jolt when Walk In turns to full on comedy will be just that, a serious jolt. In this case, also quite a delightful one.
Hell, even the opening visuals are forced (but does effectively echo Wu Chien-Lien's more dark acting turns from this era), gunplay is rather stiff and the movie does definitely not give us an enchanting romance. It all just placed in the frame for us to occupy ourselves with before Yau really starts working. Pace is uneven as well as acting but in there, a sly sense of humour begins to enter as the Tommy/Laura couple are not going the expected route of adopting their love to his new life status. No, reincarnation is the order of the day and as soon as Dayo Wong largely disappears, Danny Lee, not phoning in his performance for once, begins to dominate the frame.
No serious themes really exists here (but according to Yau, there's a message on display about the 1997 handover) although Tommy venturing into Chicken's life talks about doing good for someone who couldn't himself. Bringing light in and starting anew, even though Chicken was pretty much worthless. I'll tell you, if Wong Jing had his hands on this, no effort to actually produce entertaining and fun results would even come out of this section of Walk In. Just a little bit more dedication from Yau helps immensely and otherwise broad Hong Kong situation comedy turns out to be a satisfying driving force for the film.
Even as absurd as the plot is, Yau handles it straight when supposed to, a difficult balancing act to pull off. Yet, if there's anything that feels disappointing is that no real emotions towards any characters can be found. Just a slight discovering of humanity by Chicken's surroundings but most of what you'll see is just serviceable for the running time. So thematically and character-wise, you'll quickly let go of Walk In, which is not an all out bad tradeoff despite.
Danny Lee is used to good effect by Yau as he requires to utilize his well-honed authority, having played cops in so many movies, but where Yau steps into new territory is in amping that latter character aspect a bit more. Tommy, in Dayo Wong's clothes, doesn't exactly possess that edge but it's a trait that's allowed to come out through Chicken in a clever touch. This all means that Lee isn't sleepwalking through anything, even the action, creating a wildly entertaining and funny performance because of it. Dayo Wong remains pretty neutral though, not being particularly funny or striking as a leading man. Ada Choi is annoying, yet incredibly cute while Wu Chien-Lien takes on the wise old guy character with funny results. Emil Chow appears in a hilarious cameo towards the end and Cat III starlet Yvonne Yung (A Chinese Torture Chamber Story) is let in on the comedy as part of the two concubines the old Chicken had. The action directing team of Deon Lam and Bruce Law creates some fun mayhem also in fights- and carstunts departments respectively.
Herman Yau's Walk In possesses more originality and quirks than most of us expect from Hong Kong films. Quality, intentional or not, is not consistent throughout but despite that, this multi-genre exercise proves to be one of Herman Yau's most distinctive and underrated films along with Taxi Hunter. This is one time where Hong Kong cinema have put everything into their films AND a bit of knowledge.
Mei Ah presents the film in a 1.63:1 aspect ratio approximately. Print is relatively clean and boasts overall decent sharpness and colours. Contrast is too high to make this transfer anything other than decent but for these low-priced discs, it'll most certainly do.
The Cantonese 2.0 Dolby Digital track has surround activity but mostly stays in the center channel. Dialogue varies in volume at times while distortion can be heard in certain scenes. A Mandarin 2.0 dub is also included.
The optional English subtitles contain a number of grammar and structure errors but on the whole are serviceable. A single set of Chinese subtitles are also available. No extras are included.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson