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Port of Call - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Daap Hyut Cam Mui

Hong Kong 2015

Thriller, Drama

Philip Yung Chi-Kwong

Aaron Kwok
Jessie Li
Michael Ning
Elaine Kam
Patrick Tam
Jacky Cai
Maggie Siu
Eddie Chan

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Port of Call

Port of Call - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Detective Chong (Aaron Kwok) investigates a homicide. However, the body of the missing girl Jiamei (Jessie Li) hasn't been found, yet. There is just a great amount of blood at the crime scene. The mother (Elaine Kam) doesn't want to accept the death of her daughter, although she is quite aware that Jiamei wanted to become a model and at some point ended up in a bad environment. Suddenly, Ting Tsz-Chung (Michael Ning) turns himself in at the police station and confesses the murder of Jiamei. He reports in detail how he cut the body into pieces and flushed them down the toilet. The head he threw into the harbor. Chong may have a confession now, but he at least wants to find the head in order to close the case. Although his superior ups the pressure to finally wrap things up the detective isn't content with how things are. He doesn't understand what made Jiamei work as an escort lady. But even the more strange is that according to Ting's testimony she wanted to die herself. Since he wants to find out whether Jiamei really had a death wish and what made her and Ting tick Chong continues digging into the two individuals' past. But he won't like the answers he is about to find...

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Review: "Port of Call" sweeps the audience away from a whitewashed reality thanks to its melancholic atmosphere and the dark beauty of its pictures, showing us the drama of individuals who are prisoners of a world without hope. In other words: This movie surely won't be to the liking of everyone. But the weight its topics carry can't be argued. However, one aspect that needs to be criticized in this respect is that director Philip Yung is all too aware of this and so the film also has something slightly self-absorbed about it. This is especially obvious since the detective story very often takes a backseat und the pacing drops on several occasions. All in all this isn't much of an issue since "Port of Call" is a character-driven movie which actually comes up with a few very interesting individuals.

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The movie is based on true events and director Philip Yung shifts events into a context where the primary accent is being lost in a new city as well as dreams and hopes that are eventually getting shattered. This is some serious stuff and the extremely melancholic atmosphere underlines the picture's subjects perfectly. Furthermore, the great pictures are almost making you feel drunk and this shouldn't come as a surprise since the cinematographer has been no other but Christopher Doyle ("Chungking Express", "Last Life in the Universe") who captures some surprisingly dark and gritty pictures and works with some nice tricks, particularly during the more gory scenes. Accordingly, the thriller manages to capture you with its incredibly tense and fascinating atmosphere which carries the movie over the more lengthy scenes with ease as well.

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Concerning its narrative the film constantly jumps back and forth between several timelines which is to be expected since next to the investigation Jiamei's past needs to be unraveled in flashbacks. The characters show many facets and acting-wise Jessie Li and Michael Ning deliver a very well achieved subtle performance. Especially Jiamei's complex pain and death wish demand a lot of sensitiveness from Jessie Li which she actually proves to have. But Aaron Kwok ("The Monkey King 2", "Cold War") also surprises. As a detective with gray hair and glasses that aren't really flattering he succeeds in showing some unusual pecularities. In a few supporting roles we see Patrick Tam ("Ip Man 3"), who brightens up the gritty flick every now and then, as well as Elaine Kam, who is responsible for some successful dramatic moments.

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How dark "Port of Call" really is also becomes apparent in the flick's mood and the overwhelming drama that develops around Jiamei. But on a different level this is also a tough-as-nails thriller. Therefore, there is some graphic depiction of violence, shown in all its cruelty. This particularly concerns one certain scene in which a dead body is cut into pieces. This isn't for the faint-hearted, but also proves that the director doesn't make any compromises. Moreover, with his style of directing he manages to always put his focus on the characters. This undoubtfully makes the flick in fact a drama and the pacing backs up this assessment as well. Yet, because of its tight atmosphere thriller fans will have a good time with this film as well. Still, you shouldn't expect too much of the detective story. Because we very soon are left high and dry.

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Proving to be a real problem in respect to the story is that the film lacks a clear red thread. Where the director actually wants to go with his thriller-drama isn't apparent. However, what is apparent from the very getgo is that he wants to convey a message with a sociocritical tone. That's exactly what makes it a bit frustrating to follow the movie. This gets even worse since the individual characters may all get a bit of space for their personal stories, but the connections between the individual elements seem half-baked. Maybe it wouldn't have hurt the movie if the individual parts would have been cut together more reasonably. With its 120 minutes running time the director's cut version, which this review is based on, may be the one which the director prefers, but a little bit more additional fine-tuning would have been nice. Yet, considering the wonderfully dark-melancholic atmosphere I can't help but give a thumbs-up to the director's achievement.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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