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That Demon Within - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Mo Ging

Hong Kong 2014

Thriller, Crime

Dante Lam

Daniel Wu
Nick Cheung
Liu Kai-chi
Andy On
Lam Ka-Wah
Lee Kwok-Lu
Chi Kuan-Chun
Christie Chen
Stephen Au
Deep Ng

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That Demon Within

Story: Dave Wong (Daniel Wu) is an introverted policeman who one day donates some blood for the operation of robber and killer Hon Kong (Nick Cheung), after Hon has escaped the police severely injured, he himself having stabbed two officers during his escape. Wong didn't know about the circumstances and blames himself when Hon once again manages to escape and plans another robbery at a jeweler's shop with his gang. Every man killed from now on is on Wong's account, which is why, being on the beat again, he is putting all his efforts into finding Hon. Even during his time off he shadows the gang members and hopes to get to Hon that way. Wong doesn't know that the gang has already broken all ties to Hon because of a quarrel. At the same time Wong has to fight his own inner demon that wants him to resort to extreme violence. Since that demon is taking the shape of Hon it is even the more important for the police officer to find the coldblooded killer. Wong even has a plan. He wants to play the gang members off against each other and eliminate them. Doing so he hopes to get on Hon's trail, too.

Review: Really gritty Hong Kong thrillers are something very rare these days. Therefore, you can't help but look forward to Dante Lam's "That Demon Within". And at least in respect to his nihilistic motives and dark color choice director Lam doesn't disappoint. However, after his impressive "Unbeatable" he shifts down a gear or two and presents a thriller that more reminds us of his merely solid works like "The Stool Pigeon" or "Fire of Conscience". Every now and then he gives a hint that there is a director at work here who can deliver something extraordinary, too. But like so often Lam merely touches the surface of his potential.

That Demon Within - Film Screenshot 11

"That Demon Within" has some very strong moments, but then again it also drags on on several occasions during the middle part. Lam shows his strength during the action scenes, although the movie isn't written around them. Moreover, the movie is built on main actor Daniel Wu's portrait of a policeman standing at the brink of madness. There are some weaknesses becoming apparent when it comes to the screenplay, though, which most severe mistake is aiming at putting the psychological inner tension into the focus, yet doesn't design this approach smart enough. Sometimes it even seems as if a certain profoundness was aimed at, but the film's developments are easily to been foreseen without any need to put your grey matter to work. It simply isn't a surprise that Wong is a ticking bomb and that his schizophrenia has already overcome him.

That Demon Within - Film Screenshot 12

Maybe that wasn't even supposed to be a surprise. But if that's the case you need to wonder why the film gave away the possibility to build up some uncertainty and tension. "That Demon Within" often takes the easy road. The thriller was supposed to be a character study, instead it merely remains at the surface of a damaged psyche. Despite that it's nice that you can still easily relate to Wong, at least in some way and if you aren't put off by his very introverted nature. Because after all he seems to be an affectionate guy who takes care of his grandmother and does his work very faithfully. But in secret he has to fight a monster within that constantly wants to come to the surface. It's a monster everyone carries with him- or herself and that's what makes the movie so appealing.

Yet, it remains a fact that there could have been done a lot more with this quite appealing aspect. Instead, whenever the "demon" breaks out of its prison an irritatingly unfitting horror soundtrack accompanies the scene, which is as unnecessary as the red clouds in the edges of the picture every time Wong starts to see red. However, there are some nice ideas concerning the directing. Among them are Lam's efforts to always stay close to the action with the camera and thus force upon the viewer a certain emotional bond to Wong. In the end "That Demon Within" is also an investigative thriller and that's where the film starts to drag at times. In this respect it's also a shame that the story around Nick Cheung's character, with whom Lam has already shot quite a few movies in the lead, turns out to be rather shallow. As a villain Cheung always works well, though.

That Demon Within - Film Screenshot 13

The finale is quite surprising, though, as it delivers a few spectacular explosions and special effects. Even the CGI-fire doesn't look that bad. Furthermore, the depiction of violence doesn't leave a doubt that this is probably Dante Lam's darkest movie to date. The dark colors and sets also add to creating a tense atmosphere. That aside Daniel Wu ("Overheard", "Triple Tap") can be seen in one of his best roles. Accordingly, there seems to be a lot speaking in favor of "That Demon Within", even the more as you won't get around this thriller if you are a fan of nihilistic Hong Kong flicks - sadly, there isn't really anything better these days - but as a character drama or study Lam's work can't convince and we have already seen that he can do better, although maybe not any more gritty...

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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