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Limbo - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Zhi Chi

Hong Kong 2021


Soi Cheang Pou-Soi

Gordon Lam Ka-Tung
Yase Liu
Mason Lee
Hiroyuki Ikeuchi
Shovon Ahmed
Sujon Ahmed
Hanna Chan
Fish Liew
Rakibul Islam

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Limbo - Film Screenshot 1

Story: For the second time, a cut-off hand is found in Hong Kong. A woman's left hand. There seems to be a serial killer who choses outcasts of society as his victims. They are illegal immigrants, homeless people, or prostitutes. The rookie Will (Mason Lee) joins detective Cham (Gordon Lam Ka-Tung), and together the two work their way through mountains of trash in the most run-down areas of Hong Kong in order to find the rest of the presumably dead women. The investigators are not making any progress, but then Wong To (Yase Liu) volunteers as an informant. With that she wants to make amends for something she did to Cham. But Cham is not ready to forgive. Nevertheless, she turns out to be a great help and thanks to her contacts in the drug scene, she soon manages to put the investigators on the right track. Cham repeatedly puts her life in danger, though, because he does not care about protecting her identity. On the contrary, he even lets the drug dealers he interrogates know who betrayed them. The investigator's hatred of the informant is deep-seated, but this hatred ultimately leads to a catastrophe in the case, so that now it's Cham who has to make amends. However, he and Will are in a race against time now as the killer has already chosen his next victim...

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Review: "Limbo" is a thriller compared to which "Seven" looks like a romantic comedy. This is nihilistic Hong Kong cinema carried to extremes. And the atmosphere immediately sucks you right into the events. If you are thin-skinned, this movie is absolutely not meant for you. And thatís not because "Limbo" could be called extraordinarily violent, itís because everything in the portrayed world is incredibly gritty and gloomy. On the one hand, shooting the movie in black and white was a good decision because it reduces the violence/cruelty of some scenes, on the other hand, the colorless images even emphasize the dreariness of this world. It's not often that I have to admit this, but "Limbo" is actually one of those rare movies that gains quality and intensity through the black-and-white shots. And despite the fact that the thriller has its longueurs, it still manages to be gripping all the way through.

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Sixteen years ago director Cheang Pou-Soi already delivered a movie that radiated pure nihilism from all pores with "Dog Bite Dog". Then came movies like "SPL 2: A Time for Consequences" or the much more colorful Monkey King trilogy, of which only the second installment was able to convince. But with "Limbo", Cheang returns to something he probably enjoys most pouring his heart and soul into. Stories that are so dark that it actually takes some strength to see them unfold on the screen. And the images are also the most impressive aspect about the flick, even though there are still enough other praiseworthy features. You often feel as if you were in a parallel world. Everything seems messy, there is garbage everywhere, you constantly get the impression you are working your way through a maze of alleys, and occasionally the camera zooms out so far that it reinforces this impression too. In addition, there are some very nicely done special effects which you can hardly identify as such but once more underline the chaos of this world.

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Of course, the imagery is supposed to leave no doubt that we are in hell on earth. It seems as if limbo had merged with our world at one point, but in the background we can still perceive the real Hong Kong. This becomes very clear at least in one scene, in which we see the investigators going through a garbage dump while traffic and normal life is continuing right next to them. We also dive deeply into the world of those people who have been forgotten by society. Drug addicts, homeless people, gangsters, etc. Their world is just about surviving, whatever the cost. Wong To is part of this world, and this place represents her purgatory. She is looking for forgiveness and redemption, but she has to endure so much that itís not pretty to watch anymore. She is constantly beaten and kicked by Detective Cham and because we can partly understand his actions, those scenes leave an even deeper impression.

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Wong To just allows all that to happen to her as she feels like she deserves it, but eventually the moment comes when both the viewer and she herself have to ask themselves when it's enough. Because the abuse she has to endure keeps getting worse. Yase Liu portrays the suffering woman perfectly, and above all, she deserves praise for the fact that she got through this ordeal as an actress. Sadly, Lam Ka-Tung ("Vengeance") often only gets supporting roles, but here he can finally properly show his acting talent. The detective is a dogged antihero whose pain and suffering we can often sense behind his wooden face. Mason Lee ("Who Killed Cock Robin?") plays the young detective who is constantly in a great deal of pain because of a wisdom tooth (which is actually the original title of the movie). In addition to remorse and redemption, suffering is also one of the motifs that runs through the movie, but apart from said tooth, there are also other symbols scattered all over the thriller. For instance, there is constantly a train going by in the background, to which you could ascribe a special meaning.

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The directing and editing are outstanding. And the camera work is also responsible for the fact that "Limbo" is anything but a typical Hong Kong flick. And yet, thanks to its nihilism, the movie still manages to capture the essence of former movies of the time when the city was a British crown colony. The ending, which is probably quite predictable for most viewers and could absolutely have been avoided, plays with the principle of karma. The lovingly chosen sets full of garbage, dirt, flies, and sometimes body parts almost make you smell the stench of this hell, so with the filmmaker also adding a great soundtrack by Kenji Kawai he actually manages to play with all senses. Unfortunately, you sometimes get the impression that the story is not making any progress, but in fact "Limbo" is mainly a thriller that you are supposed to feel. The gripping finale, in which there is a fight for survival by all available means, is no exception to that. "Limbo" is without a doubt the best HK movie of the year, especially since it takes a dare and drains the viewer of his strength. Absolutely recommendable, as long as this description of the cruel/dark world has not scared you off.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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