With Hollywood signing up to remake a new Asian cinema hit and mangling the plotlines beyond recognition every week, itís good to know that HK is up for returning the favour. Thatís what Benny Chan is doing in his latest hit: Connected, which takes Cellularís concept and replaces Chris Evanís surfer dude role with Louis Koo as a disillusioned debt collector who becomes embroiled in a kidnapping plot that gives him a shot at redemptive heroism.
Bob is a debt collector whose heart isnít in the work and has been neglecting his parental responsibilities to son Kit, who lives with Bobís sister and her husband. Bobís Sister is relocating to Australia temporarily and wants Bob to meet them at the airport so he can say goodbye to his son properly, but Bobís journey to the airport is interrupted by a panicked phone call from a distressed woman. Her name is Grace and sheís a talented Toy Engineer who is captured and held hostage in a dusty shed on the outskirts of the city by a ruthless gang who appear to be after her younger brother. A telephone hanging in the shed was smashed by one of the men when they dumped Grace in there, but when left alone she managed to salvage the shattered pieces and establish a connection to Bobís mobile.
At first Bob thinks heís the victim of a prank call, but with Graceís insistence he hands the phone over to a nearby traffic cop Ė a disgraced former detective named Fai Ė who also dismisses the call as a prank and leaves Bob with a warning. When Grace refuses to hang up on the line, Bob decides to take action himself and follows her instructions to her daughterís school so he can beat the kidnappers to her. Unfortunately he is too late and witnesses the kidnapping first hand, which draws him into a life-or-death pursuit that will test his resolve against breaking the law for the greater good and challenging highly-connected murderers. As news of Bobís supposed crime-spree spreads, Fai starts to put together the pieces of Graceís kidnapping himself.
I find Benny Chan to be a terribly frustrating director. Too often he has produced complete mindless, soulless dreck, but every now and then heíll deliver a reasonably slick action thriller. Part of this is because of his long term partnership with Jackie Chan, who made otherwise appallingly scripted films like New Police Story and Rob-B-Hood work on some levels, but itís also down to Chanís gung ho attitude to action, jumping right in and producing high octane set pieces that help his films whizz by at breakneck pace. Connected benefits from Chanís old-school approach, thereís no fancy CGI, just good old fashioned mechanical carnage. The car chases in particular evoke the memory of what is rapidly becoming a bygone era, Chan knows how to shoot a stunt and always surrounds himself with a talented stunt team, which results in a face paced film that provides enough adrenaline to pad out a 110 minute action film rather effectively.
Unfortunately Connected also suffers from Chanís glaring weaknesses as a director: A complete inability to evoke drama effectively and develop a remotely engaging narrative. If it wasnít for the excellent mobile phone concept there would be hardly any tension in the film at all, Bob being forced into breaking the law to keep up with the kidnappers never really brings enough consequences down on him and results in a distinct lack of tension to his journey, so when the action sequences end the film just whimpers along. Typically for a Benny Chan film the dramatics are completely overblown, itís not enough that Graceís daughter is kidnapped and used as leverage against her, Chan has to linger on the child blubbing like someone took her toys away. Thereís a sequence later on when Bob cheats vehicular death for the hundredth time and instead of letting Koo portray the fear organically, Chan has him screaming into the camera for an excessive length of time.
Barbie Hsu Accompanies Koo in the lead roles, and while she handles her part with enough intensity itís clear that neither actor are nearly as effective as Chris Evans and Kim Basinger were - but then theyíre stuck with a director who bogs his characters down with overt affectations that would trick most performers into overacting. Liu Ye plays the bad guy, all heís given to do is look menacing and act increasingly out of control in the final act, which he does rather inconsistently. Nick Cheung is solid as the policeman who cottons on to the kidnapping, but his role is so bland anyone could sleep through it. Connected is not a particularly well performed film, itís not a particularly good film at all, but itís also not a particularly bad film. When it comes to Benny Chan films, thatís a minor victory in itself!
PresentationTai Seng bring Connected to Blu-ray in a Region-Free 2-disc set that houses the feature on a single BD-25 disc and Standard-Definition extra features on a separate single-layer DVD. If youíre not familiar with Tai Seng they regularly release HK films in the US by just taking the HK release and slapping their logo on it. It appears that the only thing to separate this release with Emperor Motion Picturesí HK release is a new cover design.
Presented in1080p at a ratio of 2.35:1, Connected comes to Blu-ray with an unspectacular transfer that falls short of the usual standards of High-Definition, whilst still being a noticeable improvement over DVD. It seems like Benny Chan has taken a digital intermediate and manipulated the colour scheme because the image is very saturated and laced with a golden hue that creates very uneven skin tones that go from a pale grey to a deep yellowy-orange. On rural shots the effect is quite striking, as golden shades mix quite beautifully with deep greens to create attractive vistas. The Blu-ray transfer handles these strong colours rather effectively, thereís no bleed and no noise. Contrast is high, whites are particularly hot and any bright colours tend to bloom a fair bit, stealing away detail. Brightness levels are also too high, blacks arenít deep enough and highlights are blown out, which leads to washed out shadows. The print is in excellent condition, very few pops and scratches prevail and compression is pretty good. Itís an AVC encode with an average bitrate of 20.49Mbps and thereís not much in the way of digital noise in the image, just some digital banding in fade outs (which occurs only once or twice).
Thereís a distinct lack of fine detail in the image, faces can look quite smooth and wide shots have noticeably soft backgrounds. Grain is present in the image but the amount varies quite a bit from shot to shot, with some shots having practically no grain, some having a soft fuzzy layer, and some with much more sharply defined grain. All of which is a good indicator that DNR is in use. Thereís some clear sharpening going on in the image, frequent halos appear, which combined with the lack of fine detail makes the image look a little harsh.
There are three audio options on the feature disc: Cantonese LPCM5.1, Cantonese DD5.1, and Mandarin DD5.1. The Cantonese track actually features plenty of Mandarin dialogue from Barbie Hsu and Liu Ye, and even some English from the bad guy gang. The LPCM track provides a rather solid audio presentation, but it falls short of the best the format has to offer. The main problem is that the bass can be inconsistent, at times it is deep and aggressive, at others it drops out, occasionally making the dialogue sound a touch hollow and harsh Ė although the score is probably most affected by this. Elsewhere dialogue is clear, clean and nicely separated even though the film constantly switches between synch sound and looped. Dynamics are good but the mix can also be a little uneven, tending to favour the front channels a touch too much in the action sequences. Thereís a rather narrow soundstage that really should be using the stereo channels much more expressively.
Thereís almost no difference between the Cantonese LPCM and DD5.1 tracks, despite the huge difference in bitrate. As for the Mandarin DD5.1 track, as always the mandarin dialogue dub is completely overblown in the mix and thereís also added foley effects that are equally overbearing.
Thereís a pretty varied selection of subtitles provided for the feature: English, Chinese (Traditional & Simplified), Bahasa Indonesia, Bahasa Malaysia, and Korean.
ExtrasOn Disc 01 you will find a Directorís Commentary, which alas has no accompanying subtitles, so I canít comment on its content. All the other extras are on Disc 02, hereís a rundown:
All extra features are SD and come with optional Chinese (Traditional & Simplified) subtitles, and are non-anamorphic with Cantonese DD2.0 audio, unless otherwise stated.
Deleted Scenes (34min:31secs): Lots of deleted scenes here, most have clearly been left out to keep the pace of the film nice and breezy, as many of the scenes take minutes to establish dynamics that are easily expressed in one or two shots. It seems Chan is pretty ruthless during the editing process, as many of the filmís scenes are a lot longer in the footage here.
Alternate Scenes (08m:44s): A much shorter collection of alternate takes, although some are more like deleted scenes. Not much to say here, again it seems pacing is the reason for their omission from the finished article.
Making Of (20m:12s) [No Subs]: This starts off with interview footage on the mobile phone theme, then settles down into a more straight forward making-of feature. It ends with 5 minutes of promo reels and storyboards. Iíd have liked to have seen more focus on the designing of the action sequences, but at least thatís covered to a degree.
Behind the Scene (38m:00s) [No Subs]: No subtitles but not much dialogue either in this feature, which is basically a video diary of the filmís shoot Ė no voiceovers, just candid footage of scenes being shot. The cast can be seen mucking around off camera at times, but the main appeal of this feature is in watching the car stunts being filmed.
Trailers (06m:38s): There are 4 segments in this section, Iíll list them individually because they each have different subtitle options:
TEASER (02m53s): Non-removable English subs and removable Chinese subs (Traditional & Simplified).
TRAILER 1 (01m:17s): Non-removable Chinese and English subs.
TRAILER 2 (02m:15s): Removable English and Chinese (Traditional & Simplified) subs.
PROMO (00m:13s): Just a quick word from Nick Cheung, Louis Koo, and Barbie Hsu, no subtitles on this one.