Bodies At Rest


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Bodies At Rest
"There's a lot of things going on here, but it's a talented cast and crew playing firmly within a set of genre tropes, not painting by numbers." | Photo: Courtesy of EIFF

Bodies At Rest opens with a nod to the weird futurity of Hong Kong before becoming a relatively formulaic action film, though one executed with sufficient skill that it does not fail to entertain. It's not actually clear if the LED billboard that shows the title is CG or a very quick ad buy before a drone shot and it's even less clear if it matters.

More clear is that as one of the city's mortuaries locks up on Christmas Eve and a staff member cycles away the camera will follow them until coming to rest on our antagonists, which it does. Renny Harlin has been a long time away from feature films, but he still knows what he's doing - and it's not just the fact that this is a siege situation in a large building at Christmas that will remind you of the Die Hard franchise (Harlin's was the second outing).

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In what might be a bit of product placement, our protagonists dine on what I think is a Dr Oetker brand microwave pizza that had been kept cool by a body. Derivative and over-processed fare reheated and chewed over awkwardly is not quite synecdoche, but I was minded of the lemonade stand in The Addams Family and how even now I can remember what the billboard justified by the reverse shot of Lurch says. This digression is as much about the fact that your reviewer is peckish as the business of show and here it's evident - dual subtitles, a litany of production companies (though I think EIFF 2019 festival mate Farming has it beat), even the presence of Harlin at the helm - you may have forgotten Cutthroat Island but between this and Skiptrace it seems redemption is more easily found in the Pacific than the Caribbean.

The concept here is high enough to almost invite a remake set in New York or another city with generous financial incentives and a public building or two. Three men initially identifiable only by their novelty Christmas masks (Santa, the leader, brothers Rudolf and the impetuous Elf) are seeking a bullet that's in a body in the morgue. Security guard Uncle King (doughnuts at the ready), pathologist Nick Lam and Intern Lin Quai are all that stand between them and their scheme.

It's not much, but it's distinct from The Raid, Under Siege, Dredd, Safe House, Panic Room, Inside Man, another fruitful intersection of the heist/hostage axes and sharp too. The cast have hundreds of credits between them but the Hong Kong film ecosystem is so productive and local that it is too often only when a Western name is attached that these films get audiences outside the billion strong Cantonese/Mandarin market. That said, it deserves it.

There are some striking moments - flashback and escape fantasy sequences are executed viscerally and a shootout in a computer room made a hall of mirrors by lighting recalls moments from, well, Die Hard, but also Enter The Dragon and John Wick: Parabellum. This is a film suffused with moments that recall other pictures, and I'm cautious to say so because that seems like it might be condemnatory - there's a lot of things going on here, but it's a talented cast and crew playing firmly within a set of genre tropes, not painting by numbers.

Anthony Cheu's score is perhaps a little overbearing, but not oppressively so. The editing is quick. The longest shot of the film is probably the bicycle bypass to bring in the baddies, but it's not the hyperslicing of the latter Taken films. The action sequences (and there are plenty) are quickly cut but can still be followed, and the twists and turns are neatly hinted at without requiring obscurity through achronicity like Destroyer. It's definitely male gazey in places, almost an achievement in a film with two female characters, one of whom does have a name but is dead. The performances are good, though there's a bit of empty cup acting that's identifiable not because of the lack of heft in a hollow paper cup but the rattle of dry china.

The weather warnings that open the film do seem to presage damper chaos (as with, say, Hard Rain) and the (comic) business of cleaner Wyatt is almost wholly predictable, but Bodies At Rest does enough to play with expectations to carve its own path. With reference to Newton, a body at rest will remain so until a force acts upon it, and the film ensures sufficient energy is directed to produce that movement. It may be hard to catch, but it's worth doing so - if only because it seems almost inevitable that in the same way Election became The Departed there might be hipster credit in that feat.

Reviewed on: 24 Jun 2019
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Bodies At Rest packshot
Action adventure sees a morgue taken over by gunmen.

Director: Renny Harlin

Writer: David Lesser

Starring: Nick Cheung, Richie Jen, Zi Yang, Nick Cheung, Richie Jen, Zi Yang

Year: 2019

Runtime: 94 minutes

Country: China, Hong Kong


EIFF 2019

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