14 October 2012 | caseymoviemania
Casey's Movie Mania: THE SILENT WAR (2012)
Previously known as WINDSEEKER, Alan Mak and Felix Chong's THE SILENT WAR fizzled at the Hong Kong box office upon release but somehow gained huge success in Mainland China. Reviews were also terribly mixed. But somehow I'm surprised to find out that THE SILENT WAR isn't as bad as I thought. Yes, it feels somewhat hollow for most parts but overall, it's an engaging dramatic thriller benefited from a solid cast and competent directions from Alan Mak and Felix Chong.
Set during the Chinese Civil War circa 1949, the movie centers on Zhang Xuening (Zhou Xun), a senior investigator who joins 701, a top-secret government agency tasked to stop "invisible enemy". Upon her arrival at the 701 headquarters in southern China, she is instructed by her superior, known as Devil (Wang Xuebing), to bring back the famous piano tuner, Luo San-Er (Pal Sin) from Shanghai, because he has an unique hearing ability that could help 701's radio-monitoring division to locate the frequencies now being used by KMT (Taiwan-based Kuomintang) agents for top-secret military information. However, she ends up rescuing Luo's blind assistant, He Bing (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) instead who has a better sense of hearing, and brings him back instead. Within a couple of days, He Bing has successfully discovers over 70 encrypted radio channels, which provide intelligence that KMT agents are gathering in China's major cities, including Shanghai.
Meanwhile, He Bing finds himself falling for Xuening but gradually attached to a decipher clerk Shen Jing (Mavis Fan) instead. Soon, problem arises when 701 agent Wu Chang (Dong Yuan) is killed in Shanghai while tailing a KMT agent Zhang Guoxiang (Lam Wai). Devil suspects there are some remaining radio channels yet to be discovered that are being used by the KMT for advanced and sophisticated codes. Again, He Bing manages to track those channels down, and discovers it involves with a mysterious head of the whole KMT spying operation codenamed as "Chungking".
It's understandable why the movie is unpopular for those who have seen it. The movie is mostly muted in tones, particularly in the second act that concentrates more on a love triangle between He Bing, Xuening and Shen Jing. While the romantic part has its worthwhile moments, most of them tends to drag the story a lot. Not surprisingly, the pace is erratic with Alan Mak and Felix Chong are yet to practice their sense of restraints whenever they tries to explore in a broader canvas within the genre convention. It's also a shame that the directors choose to ignore political aspect as well as the overall complexity of Mai Jia's original novel (in which the movie was adapted) and favors for something more commercial and simpler.
But, as mentioned earlier, the movie remains engaging enough to watch for. Even though Alan Mak and Felix Chong's executions does burden with a couple of hiccups, the first act and the third act are overall interesting. Furthermore, the movie is mostly saved by a line of solid cast. Tony Leung Chiu-Wai is typically charismatic as always, even though his Mandarin re-dubbing voice, does sounds awkward at time. Zhou Xun fares better and easily the most accomplished role of all. Here, she gives one of her classiest, yet nuanced performances she ever played in her acting career. Her engaging presence alone is certainly well-worthy for awards nomination. The rest of the supporting cast are equally competent.
Technically, the movie is adequate enough. While Dion Lam's action choreography is nothing to shout about, at least there are some worthwhile tension moments here. Overall production values are visually credible, particularly for its elegant set decoration that has the authentic feel of the period era.