Divergence (Saam cha hau)
Hong Kong (2005) Dir. Benny Chan
Take one acclaimed Hong Kong police/action director, three capable, popular actors and an award winning writer, put them together in the same crime thriller with a strong support cast in the hope of emulating the success of the seminal Infernal Affairs, and the result is… a meandering and aimless mess that actually made me drop off!
Police officer Suen Siu-yan (Aaron Kwok) is escorting a witness from Canada to Hong Kong to bring down corrupt businessman Yiu Tin-chung (Gallen Lo), but upon landing the witness is assassinated by hired killer Coke (Daniel Wu). Yiu has no time to celebrate as his pop star son Ha (Tommy Yuen) mysteriously goes missing a few days later.
Meanwhile, Suen continues to follow Yiu, targeting his sharp lawyer To Hou-san (Ekin Cheng) as a possible lead but gets a shock when he spies To with his wife Amy (Angelica Lee), who happens to be the spitting image of Suen’s girlfriend Fong who disappeared ten years earlier without a trace. As this discovery plays on his mind, Suen is unable to concentrate on the case just as things start to get out of hand.
All the elements are there – a top director, top cast, script by Ivy Ho – yet Divergence just can’t seem to find its feet and settle in one direction. Its overly complicated, unfocused story, and proliferation of characters dipping in and out of the spotlight in subplots that go nowhere hinder whatever potential the story had.
It begins promisingly enough with a creepy set up to a grisly murder one rainy night (a recurring motif for this film) before moving forward to Suen and his captive on board a plane to Hong Kong. Sniper Coke also had the chance to kill Suen too but chose not to since his first kill alerted the other police to his presence and had to scarper.
Therefore, whenever Suen and Coke face off, Coke always tells Suen “You owe me”, but never elucidates. All is revealed in a bittersweet, ambiguous denouement that might not be as hopeful as it seems. Sadly, other developments which require closure but aren’t afforded the same treatment, just one of the many problems with Ho’s over-ambitious script.
Of the three individuals said to converge in the promotional material for Divergence (but actually don’t – false advertising there), Coke is the second least developed despite the comparatively smaller screen time. We know he lives with his handler, a sneaky bald woman named Ting (Ning Jing) who Coke suspects is trying to have him killed for a hefty sum, another character sorely in need of fleshing out.
Despite being the advertised third key player of this tale, lawyer To is also something of a blank canvas, sitting stoically by Yiu’s side and calmly enforcing his legal advice on whichever hapless individual is trying to put the clamps on his employer, before slinking off to his lovely wife and kids. As a sniper, Coke is supposed to be the one difficult to detect yet it is To that is the one displaying an often-imperceptible presence.
Which leaves Suen and his ever-decreasing grip on his sanity, haunted by the sight of Amy – and who wouldn’t be under the circumstances – as the main focus of the story. Having spent 10 years trying to find Fong seeing this doppelganger shakes Suen to his core but as cop, he also has a murder, money laundering and disappearance case to solve but with his mind elsewhere, results aren’t forthcoming as swiftly as his bosses would like, causing further chaos on that front.
Yet in the middle of this is Yiu, the corrupt business mogul with the missing pop star son who we are supposed to feel sympathy for, except we know he was the one who ordered the hit on the witness at the start of the film to save his skin. While he is waiting for his assets to be unfrozen, Yiu is feeling the pressure from his own superior who may or may not know something about Yiu’s missing son.
Got all that? Realistically there is the kernel of the plot for three individual films, allowing the characters more room to establish themselves and develop beyond what they are given here. It’s one thing to have an involved, multi-tiered story but if your film only runs for 100 minutes maybe some prudent editing of the script is required or save it for another film.
As we don’t get that, Chan and Ho make their choice as to what they feel will keep the audience hooked, likely to cause much debate among audiences. Ending with a chaotic, twisting, ultimately rushed but deftly connected sequential climax for each subplot, the journey is laborious, plagued with pacing issues and a surfeit of extraneous material where brevity and relevance would have sufficed.
Hong Kong crime thrillers are also known for their action sequences but Chan decides to buck this trend, delivering just one major chase/fight scene, which is actually rather good, boasting well-timed stunts and an inventive fight in a fish market. The finale also features an all too brief punch-up but suffers from feeling anti-climactic in lieu of the paucity of prior action.
Chan has a solid cast at his disposal but the script criminally doesn’t give them much to do. Aaron Kwok spends most of his screen time chewing the scenery, making him the most active of the three leads since Daniel Wu isn’t given enough time to make a large enough impression and Ekin Cheng is almost out-acted by his glasses! Even worse, Angelica Lee is limited to being nothing more than an ethereal vision as Amy/Fong.
No doubt other HK film fans will be more generous towards Divergence and get more out of the change of pace for the genre. The exploration of the vulnerable side of a human mind is fertile ground for a thriller but it wasn’t successfully achieved in this overstuffed effort.