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Moscow Mission - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Mo Si Ke xing dong

China 2023

Action, Crime

Herman Yau

Zhang Hanyu
Huang Xuan
Andy Lau
Janice Man
Jason Gu
Zhao Bingrui
Bai Narisu

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Moscow Mission

Moscow Mission - Film Screenshot 1

Story: It's the year 1993, and the K3 of the Trans-Siberian Railway gets hit by a highly organized gang of thieves. First, they spy out potential victims and then systematically rob them. As this keeps happening and because there is even a rape, a special investigation team is put together. Detective Cui (Zhang Hanyu) is head of the team and gets help from an FSB intelligence officer in Russia. Miao Qingshan (Huang Xuan) is the leader of the gang of thieves, and when a few of his men commit one of the train robberies on their own, Cui is able to pursue them without being noticed and has his first lead. However, Miao already has another plan. He wants to rob a casino and needs the help of his old partner Vasily (Andy Lau). Since Miao has his daughter as leverage, Vasily joins him, and they plan to ambush one of the money transports that take place in the sewer system via a secret exit. Meanwhile, Miao also has problems with his sworn brother Ziwen (Gu Jiacheng) because he does not want to give up his girlfriend, even though Miao thinks she's trouble. In the meantime, Detective Cui almost managed to catch the leader of the gang a few times now, but he doesn't know about his new plan yet, and if Miao succeeds, he will leave the country forever...

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Moscow Mission - Film Screenshot 4

Review: Herman Yau has taken on a true case for his latest action blockbuster and has supposedly put a lot of research into the production of his movie. The year 1993 actually manages to give the flick a very special touch, so does the setting in Russia. "Moscow Mission" offers some peculiarities that make the movie unique and interesting, sometimes even innovative. Still, director Yau only appears to have used the real train robbery as a basis for the story, because he mixes at least three other movies in there. And that makes the final product look incredibly overloaded. It also seems as if the characters were supposed to be a little deeper, but it doesn't work at any point. Instead, we're racing from one extraordinary set to the next, even though the action is undoubtedly impressive. In the end, things don't seem like a coherent whole at all.

Moscow Mission - Film Screenshot 5

Herman Yau is currently THE go-to guy when it comes to explosive action flicks. They don't necessarily have that much depth, but certainly manage to entertain, for which "Shock Wave 2" is but just one example. This time he tries his hand at an epic story, which is also supposed to be a gripping cat-and-mouse game, but the latter just doesn't work. For that the plot would have had to be more complex and every now and then there should have been some twist. With "Moscow Mission", however, we just feel like watching several episodes that aren't put together that well. This is particularly surprising because there was actually already a series called "Operation Moscow" in 2018 that dealt with the robberies. Parts or rather some episodes of this movie are quite well done, but together they just don't create a coherent whole, and that makes the story disappointing in the end.

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Zhang Hanyu ("Manhunt") plays the detective who we can't really warm up to, though. In addition, there are a few supporting characters whose faces somehow seem familiar over time, but who never get any real personality. Andy Lau has a rather small supporting role here, which only gets more weight towards the end, but still remains a bit boring, especially since the story about his daughter could actually have added a bit of drama to the whole thing, if done right. Only Huang Xuan ("Legend of the Demon Cat") manages to give his villain some depth, and that's a good thing, because that way he kind of represents the movie's common theme as the hateful target. Otherwise, there would only be disorientation as to where you are and why you are at a new location. Strictly speaking, this is a bit too harsh, though, because the changes between the sets are actually motivated by the plot - unfortunately, just not in a way that could be called good...

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We find ourselves on a train, in an opera, then in a sewer system, etc., it's as if we were in a "Mission Impossible" spin-off, except that in "Moscow Mission" the goal is always to catch Miao. Which gets tiring at some point. The action, on the other hand, manages to score points. Sometimes it turns out quite innovative, for instance, the motorcycle chase through the sewer system, or pretty epic when there is a jet that needs to be stopped. But even with a classic car chase, Herman Yau manages to bring something special to the screen. This may also be due to the Russian cars of the 90s, which fly through the air as if their bodies were spring-loaded, but it is also thanks to Yau's sure hand in directing and his eye for innovative action. If you only focus on the action scenes, you might think that there is a great action flick hiding underneath the surface (apart from a little bit of CGI, which isn't entirely convincing), but a movie is more than just the sum of its parts.

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With its 128 minutes, "Moscow Mission" is simply too long. At the same time, you get the feeling that only the bare essentials were packed into the movie, because the editing is enormously fast, and everything is constantly moving. However, this means that there is no time for the characters, and so the various action scenes don't really stick in our memories, because we don't have any emotional connection to the events. If Yau had made a two-parter out of his movie and had given the characters more room, the result might not have been quite as frustrating. Or he could at least have cut out one or two "episodes" to make the movie less tiring. Yau's work has a lot of potential, not least thanks to its fresh setting in 90s Russia, but it just isn't enough to be called an innovative crowd puller. At times, you can actually have a lot of fun with "Moscow Mission", but the movie performs far below what it could have been...

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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