It is hard to come up with anything new to do in the “rogue cop driven to take down a master criminal” genre. The best you can hope for are good action scenes and well-drawn characters to make the film stand out. THE BRINK delivers on the action front but fumbles the ball a bit on the character side of things, offering up cops and robbers who—at best—are archetypes and—at worst—generic pieces to be moved around as the plot dictates.
Tung (Zhang Jin) is a cop on the edge in the DIRTY HARRY mold. Unlike Clint Eastwood’s classic hard-nosed movie cop, instead of a .44 Magnum, his weapons of choice are his fists and roundhouse kicks. After accidentally (Or was it intentional?) killing a suspect during a violent arrest, Tung spends six months in custody before the manslaughter case against him is dismissed. But his time in jail has only intensified his fury against the criminal elements in his city and he vows to take them all down in the most violent manner possible.
As Tung reclaims his badge, borderline psychopath Shing (Shawn Yue) finds himself on the wrong side of a mob boss smuggling in black market gold to China. After an attempt on his life fails, Shing declares war on the mob boss, with Tung in hot pursuit of all the parties involved.
Director Jonathan Li uses this traditional set up as a frame on which to hang several action set-pieces, many of which are impressively staged as Tung fights dozens of extras over the tops of cars in a parking lot, through the corridors of an outdoor market while homemade bombs go off all around him, and—in the tour-de-force climax—aboard a boat in the middle of a typhoon. With each successive fight scene, THE BRINK thankfully gets more and more absurd, which is the only way that the film can stand out from the crowd of Hong Kong/Chinese action films rapidly being pumped out.
Li does try to give a slight bit of shading to Tung by having him become the financial and emotional support for the eighteen-year-old daughter of the suspect he killed in the opening scene. But it is never clear if he does this out of a sense of guilt, honor, or a feeling of emptiness in his life outside of his job. Adding a subplot about the daughter being pregnant goes nowhere and a late in the third act twist of Tung’s fury about the greed that drives Shing comes off as insincere, making these wrinkles in the film feel like shallow attempts to add in some heart to a movie that is better when it remains a cold-blooded action flick.
Despite the surface-level attempts to make Tung more than a grim-faced badass, for the most part, Li understands that THE BRINK is simply a delivery system for kinetic action scenes and is happy to pump the audience full of that particular drug. A good ninety percent of the film is devoted to playing like a sizzle reel for Li and the stunt team and that is enough to make it a fun viewing experience.
–Matt Wedge (@MovieNerdMatt)