Switch: Film Review

Andy Lau in "Switch."
No amount of money and glitzy locations are going to help a film with this much ineptitude in its DNA.

Hong Kong star Andy Lau heads a strong cast as a globetrotting spy in search of redemption.

Completely baffling and almost utterly inept, Switch would be bad enough to be good if it didn’t take itself so completely seriously. Ostensibly a heist picture, multi-hyphenate Jay Sun strings together what he may have thought were a series of really cool set pieces that never connect coherently. More reminiscent of a cheesy 1980s cop show than a thriller, the random action sequences and subtitle howlers (not seen since that same decade) start early and never let up. Not even Hong Kong movie star Andy Lau will be able to help Switch’s commercial prospects, which are dire in any territory with taste if the speed at which it vanished from cinemas is any indication.

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As can best be determined by gaping plot holes, shoddy editing and illogical narrative construction, Switch revolves around Interpol supercop/spy/thief (it’s never really clear) Xiao Jinhan (Andy Lau) and his quest to get his hands on a priceless Yuan Dynasty painting, one of three that -- it seems -- an American gangster, a British art collector, a Chinese dowager thug type and a Japanese wannabe Yakuza, Yamamoto (Tong Dawei, American Dreams in China) with serious Oedipal issues, are also looking for. Jinhan has several girlfriends who help him with either his spying or his thieving depending on the girl, among them Lisa (Lin Chiling, Red Cliff), who’s dead but then not and his Hong Kong cop wife Lin Yuyuan (Zhang Jingchu, Peacock), who has absolutely no jurisdiction over the crime. At one point Switch changes focus to concentrate on Jinhan’s reform; the film implies he has a tainted past, but what that might be remains a mystery. Also a mystery? Why Yuyuan stays married to Jinhan when he makes it clear he has no intention of ending his womanizing ways. Oh, there’s also a kidnapping.

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Switch was released in two versions, one for Mainland China and one for Hong Kong, and word on the street is that the hatchet job done on the Hong Kong print made the story even more confusing than the widely lampooned Mainland one; the extra details would not have helped. Writer-producer-director Sun directs his feature debut like a film school drop-out with too much cash; he’s clearly got some to play with -- locations Dubai and Bahamas came out of the alleged $26 million budget -- but zero grasp on story or how to direct actors. Characters come and go, plot threads materialize out of nowhere to no purpose (Who was the little girl in the village? What’s with the all-girl ninja army?). The big moments that should leave an impression consistently fall flat -- like Lisa and Yuyuan’s throwdown. When one runs the other through with a sword Roc Chen’s score swells and crashes -- and the audience remains deathly, tellingly silent.

Producer: Han Xiaoli, Cui Qiang, Lu Hongshi, Teng Wenji, Xu Chuantong, Shen Yue
Director: Jay Sun
Cast: Andy Lau, Lin Chiling, Zhang Jingchu, Tong Dawei, Siqin Gaowa, Zhang Guangbei, Shi Tianqi
Screenwriter: Jay Sun
Executive producer: Han Sanping, Peter Lam, Jay Sun
Director of Photography: Shao Dan
Production Designer: Otto Cui
Music: Roc Chen 
Editor: Du Hengtao

No rating, 112 minutes