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Original Title:
Ai zuozhan

Hong Kong 2004

Crime, Thriller, Romance

Cheang Pou-Soi

Eason Chan
Niki Chow
Wang Zhiwen
Qin Hailu
Raymond Wong
Kenny Kwan
Carl Ng

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Love Battlefield

Story: Yui (Eason Chan) and Ching (Niki Chow) are a couple for quite some time now. Their relationship had a great start, but nowadays, more and more often, they get into fights because of trivial matters. In order to save their relationship, the two decide to make a trip to Europe. However, on their day of departure they have to find out that someone has stolen their car and their luggage along with it. Yui wants to go to the police, but Ching doesn't want to miss their flight. They get into a heavy argument and end up going seperate ways.
Shortly thereafter, Yui by accident discovers his car parking in a back alley. Unfortunately, his car has been stolen by a gang of mainland thieves, who take Yui as a hostage. The gang's leader Wah (Wang Zhiwen) knows that Yui works at a hospital and so he forces him to treat an injured member of his group. If the man would die, Yui wouldn't have to live long either. However, eventually Yui understands that he won't survive this day anyway.
By chance, Ching realizes that something is wrong with Yui and that he might be in danger. Yet, the police won't help her and so she goes on a search for her ex-boyfriend on her own...

Review: The glorious days, when HK-cinema was still dark, tragic and emotionally engaging seem to be long gone. Every now and then there might show up some movie, like "One Nite in Mongkok" or "SPL", that reminds us of those good old times, but such works are rather rare. In these bad times, in which Johnnie To almost single-handedly has to keep HK-cinema alive, there suddenly and unexpectedly emerges a little gem on the horizon: "Love Battlefield"!
This is a film that feels like good old HK-cinema and will instantly manage to captivate the viewer. In his engaging work with a good amount of nihilism, director Cheang Pou-Soi combines a typical HK-thriller with a great love story in a very impressive way, which thankfully also lacks any cliché.

Director Cheang Pou-Soi awakened my interest for his other works with his engaging, yet repellent "Dog Bite Dog". And to my very surprise "Love Battlefield" proves the be more entertaining and gripping, even though it isn't as gritty as "Dog Bite Dog". In many respects, "Love Battlefield" is an impressive piece of work. Not only is this a great return to our beloved HK-Thriller genre, no there is even a love story in the film's focus, that forms a great unit with the rest of the movie. The portrayed emotions are credible and intense at any time, the actors, putting aside the supporting actors, deliver a great performance, and the script is refresingly unpredictable. Here, everything is possible and can happen at any moment, which makes this film so incredibly thrilling and gripping.

Szeto Kam-Yuen is one of the best script-writers of the former british crown colony. He already wrote the stories of many great movies, like "The Longest Nite", "Expect the Unexpected", "SPL" or Johnnie To's new "Exiled". His stories are always nihilistic in tone and most of them surely don't head for a Happy End. But Szeto also doesn't miss to give his stories an especially strong emotional impact on the viewer. He again succeeds in this by serving us some nicely elaborated characters, whose actions are always comprehensible.
Eason Chan plays Yui, a man who takes his girlfriend for granted, and only realizes what he got from this relationship and what mistakes he made, when it is already too late and things or going down to hell. When being a hostage, he starts to understand that he is needed by the gangsters, and thus he dauntlessly gets himself involved in planning with the kidnappers how to go on with their scheme, just in order to protect his girlfriend, who is in lethal danger of getting killed by the gangsters, if she really should be able to find her boyfriend.

Ching, played by Niki Chow, has some well-done emotional scenes, her character is more profound than what one would have thought at the beginning. When Yui gets abducted, she also starts to realize how strong her love for Yui still is. Therefore, she goes looking for Yui on her own without wasting much thought about what dangers might lie ahead of her. Her chances of success may be minimal at best, but that's what it's all about: the power of love. This might sound quite cheesy, and in the hands of any other director it may have become a kitsch-fest, but in "Love Battlefield" this is all brought onto screen in a very natural way. You never get the feeling that the director is actually trying to manipulate the audience and its feelings. This is just happening automatically.

Also doing a gread job is Wang Zhiwen as the main villian and Qin Hailu as his wife. Wah can be extremely cold-blooded at times, and so he is everything but an individual you can relate to. Still, he doesn't just become the stereotype of a villian, but always seems very three-dimensional. The script never tries to morally justify his actions, yet he just isn't the kind of villian you instantly wish an early on-screen death. To some extent, this is thanks to his wife Qin, who brings another level to the film. That is because the motif of love is also very apparent between her and Wah.
Apart from the four main characters, the rest of the cast seems a bit shallow. Raymond Wong isn't convincing, despite his disguise, Kenny Kwan can't deliver anything special either and the rest seems to be merely a bonus add.

There are also some other weak points to point out, as "Love Battlefield" surely isn't a perfect movie. The story just builds on too many unbelievable coincidences. Some of them feel too forced, and furthermore some of the slow-motion and part of the score just seems a bit artificial. That's unfortunate, as there are also some positive aspects to be pointed out, concerning the same matter. Generally, the soundtrack is very fitting and captivating, and more than anything else there is some superior camera work working in favor of the film. Oftentimes there are some pictures or impressions thrown into the movie of what effects certain actions, that just took place, will have in the future. For instance, there are several time jumps into the future during a big shootout, that show us how the detectives are investigating the crime scene. This is all presented in a very stylish manner, and these scenes are also supported by some very nicely done sets. Especially, the car at the bottom of the harbor almost looks dreamy the way the light incidence is depicted.

"Love Battlefield", to point it out one more time, proves to be a very gripping and thrilling film. The love story is touching, the characters genuine, the actors do a great job and the story, apart from some genre-typical coincidences, is very good. At the core of Cheang's movie, there is the struggle for love, and still we don't have to miss gritty HK-thriller action in favor of this. The characters always act according to the current situation and their motives, and grow or change because of them. But what's really fascinating about this movie is, that we never know what to expect next. We really wish for a Happy End, but in the end we are actually expecting anything to happen. This is something we learn right from the start, and that's also what's so appealing about this well-done genre mix. The movie is gripping to the very last and a must-see for any thriller-fan!

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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