Star-studded cat-and-mouse action thriller builds up tension only to disappoint towards the end
(Warning: This review may contain minor spoilers.)
Written and directed by Longman Leung & Sunny Luk (Cold War), Helios centres around a dreadful Korean nuclear device that's stolen by the never-been-caught most wanted titular criminal. When the sources reveal that it will be sold in Hong Kong to a group of foreign terrorists, Counter-Terrorism Response Unit leaders Lee Yin Ming (Nick Cheung) and Fan Ka Ming (Shawn Yue) are tasked to carefully retrieve the delicate weapon of mass destruction with the help of the country's top nuclear physicist Prof. Siu Chi Yan (Jacky Cheung) and Korean representatives Choi Min Ho (Ji Jin Hee) and Pok Yu Chit (Choi Siwon). The plot thickens when a Chinese envoy named Song An (Wang Queqi) prohibits the Koreans to leave with the weapon.
Featuring the few very familiar celebrities in Chinese and Korean entertainment, this film is so fast-paced that there's no time for character development and relies solely on the star power of the actors and general sense of righteousness to get the audience to spontaneously care for the characters. With the rather cheesy script and quick pacing, none of the actors are able to give a standout performance, not even the main characters. However, the cast did enough to portray the strong personalities of their respective roles, which is crucial for a movie like this where the tension and thrills are mostly generated from the situations created by each character's own agenda, responsibility and point of view. The Caucasian characters, however, are badly acted as usual in Hong Kong productions.
The cinematography and editing are quite strange at times as some camera angles cut too close to the actors' faces as though it's deliberate to show how gorgeous these actors are and for their fans to go crazy about it. Korean stars Super Junior Choi Siwon (Dragon Blade), Yoon Jin Yi and Ji Jin Hee have enough screen time to please the K-pop fans but it does seem like these actors are only here to look good. I was, however, impressed by Janice Man who showcases some really convincing Brazilian jiu-jisu moves in one of the few decent action sequences of the film. The actress plays the loyal assistant of the antagonist who's somehow also very pretty. As mentioned before, there's no character development so the audience will not know who these characters really are and how they came to be, and hence the lack of emotional attachment which makes the dramatic scenes ineffective.
Immediately in the first scene itself, the film shows that it's going to be cheesy and corny, with Song An's assistant Yuan Xiao Wen (Fen Wen Juan) wearing sunshades out at night inspecting a plane crash site. But despite all that TV idol series-like elements and some laughable flaws (like why set up a trap to kill the good guys but only arrive after they do?), the plot is actually quite compelling with constant intensity and suspense that engaging enough to keep the audience intrigued. At the back of my mind during the first act itself, I was really hoping that the film wouldn't screw it up with tiresome cliches such as the oh-so-that's-the-bad-guy-all-along twist where the final act reveals that the most significant innocent character turns out to be the villain and the asshole is actually right, but sadly, that is how the film goes down and it's really disappointing when after all that intensity and complications, this is all there is. Without a smarter twist or at least a big satisfying final showdown, it is quite anti-climatic to say the least.
The worst thing is that the film doesn't have an ending. It simply closes with an epilogue that says, "The battle against Helios has only just begun." But unlike Iceman and Cold War, at least this cliffhanger seems intended all along with better planning. What is with all these abrupt endings in big Chinese blockbusters these days? It's a risky move, especially if the general audience's response to the film is not strong enough for an investment to a followup. Great non-adapted films like Infernal Affairs and The Matrix weren't initially planned to be trilogies and people could still enjoy their first film without ever needing to watch the sequels, whereas Helios is one of those that neither works without sequel, nor entertaining enough for the audience to really care for one.
Simply put, the Leung-Luk duo managed to come up with another suspenseful thriller with tension and intensity almost as high as their previous film, Cold War, but failed to deliver to an emotional level and once again, crashing in the final act with unsatisfying twist and ending.
Malaysia censorship: Watched the public screening and I don't think anything was cut. The few violent sequences and vulgarity are not censored.
Second opinion: My girlfriend said that she was very engaged but she was able to predict who the bad guy is long before it's revealed.
Verdict: Pacey, compelling and constantly intense with acceptable cheesiness but disappoints in the third act with cheap cliches and the lack of closure.
Rating: 2.5 / 5
Chinese Title: 赤道 (Cek Dou)
Country / languages: Hong Kong, China / Cantonese, mandarin, Korean, English
Genre: Action crime thriller
Running Time: 118 minutes
Director-writer: Longman Leung & Sunny Luk
Cast: Jacky Cheung, Nick Cheung, Choi Siwon, Shawn Yue, Wang Xueqi, Janice Man, Chang Chen, Yoo Jin Yi
Malaysia Release Date: 30 April 2015
Local Distributor: GSC Movies
Production: Media Asia Films, Wanda Pictures, Sun Entertainment Culture, Sil-Metropole Organisation, Guangzhou Chang Chang Film & TV Culture, Media Asia Distribution (Beijing), Stars Shine Blue Sea Productions
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