‘Jasmine’: Hong Kong Review

Courtesy of Hong Kong International Film Festival
An overwritten head-scratcher

Jason Tobin and Byron Mann do the honors in an arty Hong Kong-set psychological thriller

It has its harrowing moments, but the psychological thriller Jasmine is an impenetrable mystery for most of its running time, and deliberately so. The directing debut of producer-screenwriter Dax Phelan revolves around a determined man who continues searching for his wife’s murderer long after the police have given up, until a screeching final twist makes everything that went before it more interesting. It also helps to clarify the hero’s obsessive behavior in an over-written screenplay. Jason Tobin (who appears in the upcoming Van Damme actioner Pound of Flesh) delivers an edgy, taut performance in the main role with action star Byron Mann (The Man with Iron Fists) as his nemesis. Thriller fans should be able to wade through the murky goings-on to reach the U-turn point. The film bowed in the Hong Kong Film Festival’s Indie Power sidebar and now heads for its US debut at the Dallas Film Festival. The exotic actors and backgrounds in a mainly English languager should help ancillary traffic.

For a low budget indie, it cultivates a nicely sophisticated genre look. The setting, as they say, could be anywhere, but it happens to be a duded-up Hong Kong that looks as shiny, elegant and cool as Dubai, with startlingly few people on the streets. Most of Phelan’s script is written as an urban nocturne for Leonard To (Tobin), a damaged fellow who slinks around trying to put his life back together after his wife’s unsolved murder. Painfully polite, earnest and a little creepy, he’s not the sort of guy you want to open your door to at night, but his old friend Grace (a solemnly aching Eugenia Yuan) knows his story and gives him a few welcome moments of humanity. They may have met at group therapy for people who lost loved ones in violent crimes, but there is much ambiguity surrounding Leonard’s earlier life.

A flashback, if that's what it is, shows Grace helping him pack his dead wife’s clothes in a dazzling bayside home. Though he seems to be sleeping on park benches these days, at least he applies for some jobs. Just when things are looking up, he notices a stranger (Mann) hanging around the cemetery near his wife’s grave. In the frantic foot chase that follows, Leonard seems more fearsome and frightening than the object of his pursuit, who he tracks for the film’s entire second act.

Phelan, who was an associate producer on Paul Schrader’s Hollywood mop-up The Canyons, clearly has a crush on filmmaking that explores the dark side of the mind. He has the right actor in Tobin, who creates a compulsive character with equal doses of sadness and nervous intensity; in fact the main mystery is always what’s going on in his head. His one-track focus turns him into a resourceful hero for whom barred and gated security is no problem, and he's as agile as a cat burglar when he wants to break in to an apartment.

One would have liked to see more of Byron Mann, captured in distant long shots while Leonard trails him to sultry bars and soaring apartment buildings in a fantasy Hong Kong. As his ultra-feminine girlfriend Anna, a model and aspiring actress, Sarah Lian does a nice turn in a shopping mall scene.  

A Shanghai Street presentation in association with Blak Dot Productions, Ripped Pictures, Defector Films, RockGinger

Cast: Jason Tobin, Byron Mann, Eugenia Yuan, Sarah Lian, Glen Chin
Director, Screenwriter: Dax Phelan
Producers: Dax Phelan, Stratton Leopold, Eric M. Klein, Jason Tobin, Jennifer Thym, Chris Chan Lee, Martin Strachan, Guy Livneh
Executive producers: Jon Anderson, Nicole Watson
Director of photography: Guy Livneh
Production and costume designer:
Suki Lui Sui Fung
Editor: Chris Chan Lee
Music: Shie Rozow
Casting:
Josh Ridgway
Sales: Lon Haber & Co.

No rating, 80 minutes

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