'Connected' was released in 2008 and was directed by Benny Chan ('New Police Story'). This movie is based on 2004's 'Cellular' (an average action thriller directed by Larry Cohen), contra to the wave of Asian Cinema adaptations which have become increasing popular in Western Cinema in recent years. With Chan at the helm, who is renowned for fast paced action, I was expecting 'Connected' to be a nonstop rollercoaster with plenty of over the top set pieces.
Louis Koo ('Throw Down') plays Bob, a debt collecter who is also the main protagonist in this movie. Barbie Hsu ('Silk') joins Koo playing Grace Wong, a young single mother taken hostage by a ruthless gang. Nick Cheung ('Election') also joins the cast as Detective Fai. Also on board we've got Ye Liu ('Curse of the Golden Flower') as Senior Inspector Fok and Siu-Wong Fan ('The Legend of the Black Mask') as Tong (leader of the gang who abduct Grace).
The movie opens with loving single mother Grace Wong dropping her daughter (Tinker) off at school. On her way back home Grace's car is rammed by unknown assailants and she is taken hostage. Delirious and stunned from the threat on her life, Grace comes to in her own home as the gang who abducted her ransack her home in search of something. She is then blindfolded and taken to a remote location where she is held prisoner. Following a quick survey of her makeshift prison (basically a large shed) she rewires a broken phone (it was explained at the beginning of the movie that she is an engineer) and tries to contact the outside world. She eventually makes contact with a debt collecter named Bob.
Bob is a slacker who never really achieved much in life, although deep down he is a good person. Like Grace, he too is a single parent and sole guardian of his young son, Kit Kit. He is not a bad father but his current profession and relaxed demeanour has led to numerous let downs/broken promises to his young son. With Kit Kit now moving to Australia (with his Aunt), Bob has to complete his days work and meet his son at the airport to bid him a final farewell. Determined to keep his promise (which is possibly the last chance to redeem himself), Bob will let nothing stop him from making the airport on time. En route to the airport Bob receives an apparent prank call from a young lady in distress (Grace) who claims to have been kidnapped. Bob initially disregards this call as a hoax but Grace's persistent pleading (and refusal to get off the line) convinces him that the situation may be genuine. With Grace explaining that her daughter's life is at risk she begs Bob to intercept her daughter before the gang does.
Disgraced detective Fai is stopped by Bob who explains that he has a young lady on the line and is desperately in need of help. But just as Bob hands the cellular over to Fai the gang return to question Grace and she is forced to hide her repaired phone and face them. With Grace no longer on the line and believing that he is involved in a prank, Fai warns Bob for wasting police time and hands him back the phone. Meanwhile, Grace is undergoing a violent interrogation as to the whereabouts of an item which the gang are desperately seeking. It transpires that Grace's brother has some very sensitive information which the gang will do anything to retrieve. They make threats on the lives of Grace's daughter and brother if she does not provide what they require. Hysterical and helpless she turns to Bob for help. Although Bob desperately needs to make it to the airport on time he reluctantly agrees to help Grace. With the gang already making their way to Tinker's school there is no time to inform the authorities so Bob takes off to rescue her. Although previously stripped of his medals, Fai is no slouch in the sleuthing department and also picks up the trail on the mysterious abduction of Grace Wong (following his earlier meeting with Bob). What follows is a thrilling game of cat and mouse across the vast open space of Hong Kong as Bob attempts to save Grace's daughter/brother and then (of course) Grace herself, as the gang turn their focus towards his elimination. It goes without saying that his cell phone runs out of battery mid way through proceedings!
Chan has really pulled out all the stops with regards to the action content of this movie, which includes one of the most thrilling and inventive car chase sequences I have seen in recent years. The sequence involves Bob in his green Ford Ka (which resembles a turtle!) as he races to Tinker's school. Along the way he annihilates a building, countless cars and a soft drink transport truck. The camera work, as is to be expected from a Chan movie, is top notch and dynamic as Bob narrowly misses passing motorists (as he drives the wrong way down a busy street) and destroys the bamboo scaffolding surrounding a new building before eventually flipping his battered Ka onto its roof. This sequence is most definitely the action highlight. There are also numerous other action sequences which are very highly stylised. The chase where Bob is pursued by one of the gang members (while having a gun fight) down the side of a mountain is also beautifully shot and thoroughly exciting. The climatic airport sequence (again expertly shot) really is edge of the seat stuff with some cracking fight sequences and shoot outs.
The acting on display is for the most part acceptable. Koo does a fine job with his cowardly and unreliable character who has to search deep within to find some steel, although he is guilty of taking his hysteria a bit too far on occasion. Shu is somewhat shallow in her performance as Grace and really is firmly one dimensional throughout the entire presentation. Fan is impressive as the menacing and ruthless Tong. As seems to be case with the majority of Asian releases featuring English speaking parts, it's the Western actors in 'Connected' who let the side down with some over the top and hammy performances. Check out the scene where one of the henchmen asks Grace “Do you want to play?” before laughing manically. Aside from this minor niggle, Tong's gang members do a worthy job of keeping tensions high with some shocking brutality, providing a refreshing change to the “softer” kidnappers who normally appear in this type of movie.
'Connected' contains a few twists and turns (and double crosses), with the drug dealing gang's true identity being the major “reveal” of the movie. In saying that there's nothing overly clever about the plot (aside from having almost three subplots running in conjunction with each other) and it seems somewhat disjointed at times. Interludes such as Bob's attempts to purchase a car phone charger merely delay the action rather than providing comedic relief (as is the presumed intention). Chan also spends a considerable portion of time on character establishment but with the plot relying on fast pace to keep the audience interested, this attention to character detail seems somewhat unnecessary. There are a couple of characters that could have easily been omitted from the presentation without any impact to the plot. I know that this type of movie is supposed to be enjoyed rather than analysed but I find it difficult to believe that Bob would first attempt to save Tinker and then attempt to save Grace's brother before moving onto Grace herself. I mean the man cannot even keep a simple promise to his son - how can he make this transition to hero and risk his life on numerous occasions so willingly?!
One aspect of this movie which really leapt from the screen was the very blatant product placement. Close-ups of the mobile phone manufacturer's logo (which comprises a large “M”) feature in the majority of the scenes and a certain “Maximum taste, no sugar” soft drink has the climax of the intense Ford Ka chase sequence built completely around it. I suppose even wealthy studios need all the revenue they can generate in the current economic climate!
Although undoubtedly a very exciting and fast paced movie, some aspects of Bob's crusade to save Grace and her family require suspension of disbelief at times. I have to place this one firmly in the genre of action flicks where to viewer is required to check their brain at the door prior to watching. Once this prerequisite is complete, brace yourself for a non-stop thrill ride and enjoy what Chan does best, with enough plot twists and set piece stunts to keep even the most rabid action fan happy.
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