Crimes of Passion (Yi Chang Feng Fa Xue Yue Di Shi): Film Review

Gao Qunshu misses his mark in combining a bent-cop romantic thriller with the procedural genre he has previously proved at home with.

Incumbent Golden Horse Best Film winner Gao Qunshu plays up the policier aspect in his adaptation of a romance novel about a rookie detective and the gangland scion.

Originally marketed with the English title of A Sentimental Story, the final moniker of mainland Chinese director Gao Qunshu’s latest film speaks volumes about his approach towards adapting novelist Hai An’s 1994 novel about a policewoman’s forbidden relationship with a gangland figure she was assigned to protect: high on action sequences, law-enforcement procedures and a detective’s inner struggle about throwing her professional rulebook out of the window, Crimes of Passion flounders with its unconvincing depiction of the dangerous liaisons crucial to the development of the story.

It’s perhaps a surprise to find Gao misfiring so soon after his critical-acclaimed Beijing Blues, a triple award-winner at Taiwan’s Golden Horses last year. A low-budget documentary-style police-procedural about a police officer and the near-absurd challenges he had to face while patrolling his working-class milieu, Beijing Blues offers nuanced characters, an engaging narrative and a no-frills but all-heartfelt tribute to the difficult lives being led in China today. Not that any of this is evident in Crimes of Passion: belying a title which would befit an erotic thriller – this is an official-sanctioned mainland Chinese film, so that’s a non-starter of a genre in any case – Gao’s latest film, which opened in China on August 8, is vague about the transgressions being committed and convoluted about the emotions at play.

The story unfolds as the Chinese police are trying to recover the Golden Buddha, a valuable historical relic which is in the possession of a Korean gang who is at war with their Japanese nemesis. In an attempt to coax the mobsters to hand the artifact over, the police offers to protect the youngest member of the clan in hiding in Shenzhen – a pretext leading to the meeting between the vivacious, bilingual rookie cop Lu Yueyue (Hong Kong actress Yeung Wing, known by her showbiz alias Angelababy) and Kim Jeong-sai (Korean actor Jae Hee), a charismatic, soft-speaking young man who seems apologetic about his roots.

Similar to Zhao Baogang’s 1997 adaptation – which made a star out of the then ingénue Xu Jinglei Crimes of Passion is driven largely by the growing affections between Lu and Kim, and how the detective battles her own conscience and professional (and patriotic) obligations as she becomes engaged and consummates her relationship with the gangland scion. But Gao and his screenwriter Huo Yin (and also the novelist Hai An himself) have chosen to deliver an update packed with external complications: in addition to foisting a lot of car chases, gunfights and various pyrotechnics into the proceedings – genre devices which do not necessarily add to the core of the story – the gangland warfare is also given an international dimension (Chinese mobs, and rule-breaking cops for that matter, are never allowed to be shown on screen here), and Lu actually caught in some kind of internal power struggle within her police squadron.

But the one ploy which failed to take off is the introduction of Xue Yu (Huang Xiaoming), a jaded, more senior-ranked detective who observes, from a distance, the growing relationship between Lu and Kim. It might have been well if Gao is to go down the noir path and cast Xue as a meek, helpless narrator of things – as the source material and the 1997 version did – but perhaps sensing the opportunity to add intertextual/gossip press interest to it all (Yeung and Huang are one of the most written-about star couples in China) Xue is fashioned as some kind of an embittered, jilted lover, his appearances resembling more like a psychotic stalker than an overseer of a police operation.

It’s a shame that Crimes of Passion fails on a human level given how it boasts of technical merits which could compete with many a policier or romantic drama: Arthur Wong’s camerawork and Man Lim-chung’s production has provided both tension and context as the story moves from Shenzhen’s skyscraper-laden landscape to the rural hinterlands in Yunnan, where the film’s deadly denouement takes place. What this film need is solid sentiment about the human condition and its inner desires: it’s about time Gao is to rediscover his real Chinese blues.

Production Companies: Inlook Media, with co-presenters Lianneng Media, Guangzhou Xingmu Culture Development, Qingdao Jinxiuqiancheng Real Estate Development Company, Beijing Taiyao Studio, China Film Group, China Movie Channel, Yantai Broadcasting and TV Station

Cast: Angelababy Yeung Wing, Huang Xiaoming, Jae Hee (Lee Hyun-kyun)

Director: Gao Qunshu

Screenwriter: Huo Xin and Gao Qunshu, based on a novel by Hai An

Producers: Lin Xu, Han Xiaoli, Lu Hongshi, Zheng Xin, Zhao Haicheng, Wang Donghui, Fan Liangyou, with presenters Han Sanping, Huang Xiaoming, Chen Xiangrong, Guo Cheng, Xiao Yuanxiong, Yan Xiaoming, Li Ming

Director of photography: Arthur Wong

Production designer: Huang Wei

Music: Shu Nan

Editor: Yu Dong, Chen Fei

Production Designer: Man Lim-chung

Art Director: Xiao Haihang

In Putonghua/Mandarin, English and Korean
Running time 114 minutes