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Non-Review Review: Paradox

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2018.

The obvious point of comparison for Paradox is Taken.

Of course, Taken is so archetypal an action film that it has become a stock point of comparison for any gritty action movie with a paternal protagonist. However, the similarities to Paradox are quite apparent. Both Paradox and Taken are the stories of fathers who discover that their daughters have been kidnapped while holidaying abroad, and who inevitably use their investigative skills (and their capacity for violence) in order to track down their lost loved one while venturing into a disturbing subculture that exists for the gratification of the rich and the privileged.

Paradox follows veteran Hong Kong police negotiator Lee Chung-Chi when his daughter is kidnapped in Thailand. It quickly becomes clear that the girl has been targeted by illegal organ dealers to provide a heart transplant for the corrupt local mayor, meaning that the father is caught in a desperate race against time to pull back the layers of corruption and indifference that serve to insulate those responsible. Along the way, he teams up with local police inspector Tsui Kit to crack the case.

However, much like the obvious comparison to Taken, the simple plot description does not do justice to the weirdness and tonal awkwardness of Paradox. It is perhaps most accurate to describe Paradox as a film quite like Taken, if Taken featured a scene in which one character dangles another off the roof by their penis.

Paradox works quite well as a martial arts action film. The stunt work and choreography is impressive, and the film has an appealing and endearing energy its is various action setpieces. On a purely technical level, the stuntwork is impressive and the action is fluid. Although Louis Koo is not a martial arts film star, the rest of the cast acquit themselves admirably. More than that, director Wilson Yip demonstrates a playful and inventive knack for the movie’s setpieces, which often feel heightened to the point of slow motion ballet, performed with a wry and knowing grin.

There is an endearing goofiness to the action set pieces within Paradox, a quality that feels almost improvisational – a reminder of how much of stunts both dramatic and comedic hinge on rhythm and timing, hitting the right beat at just the right moment to provoke the proper response from the audience. At one point, after a parkour chase through the city centre, Tsui Kit apprehends a suspect by leaping through the guardrails at the edge of the docks. At another point, a villain discovers the hero’s key weakness: throwing kids from rooftops. This leads to a deadly game of catch.

There is a rich vein of absurdity running through Paradox, perhaps best captured in a sequence towards the end of the film. The villainous Sacha has managed to get a meat hook through his opponent’s leg. Never one to miss an opportunity, Sacha then proceeds to drag his foe through an abattoir while riding a motorised wheelchair and cackling like this is the moment in which he has achieved all of his life’s dreams. There is something infectious in this heightened aesthetic, and in the eagerness witch which Paradox embraces the ridiculous, a world where the local organ trafficker is one phonecall and one question away.

At the same time, Paradox suffers from a bizarre tonal unevenness. Perhaps reflecting the fact that Louis Koo is better known as an actor rather than a martial artist, Paradox attempts to shoehorn in some awkward melodrama. The film’s impressive action sequences are padded out with excessive melodrama, with Paradox delving into the fractured and tortured relationship between Lee Chung-Chi and his daughter. Juxtaposed against the ridiculousness of the martial arts beat is a story dealing with weightier themes like abortion and statutory rape, which the film plays entirely straight.

It would be difficult to maintain this delicate tonal balance of itself, but Paradox confidently heaps even more surreal narrative elements atop a plot that is already overburdened. Perhaps to help compensate for the leading actor’s lack of experience with martial arts, Paradox affords a small supporting role to martial arts legend Tony Jaa. Jaa plays Tak, who serves as Kit’s partner and who gets to take part in one of the film’s most impressive and dizzying martial arts spectacles.

However, the film also suggests that Tak might have the ability to see the future. When Tak comes into contact with Chung-Chi, he has a brief flash of the carnage that will follow. When he alludes to this in conversation with Kit, Kit wonders about his partner’s “premonitions”, suggesting that this is not a unique occurrence. This ability would seem to be something of a game-changer for the movie, but it is never discussed or explored. It is just witnessed briefly, discussed vaguely, and promptly forgotten about.

These strange tonal shifts are both Paradox‘s greatest strength and its fatal weakness. Paradox is a movie about a father trying to come to terms with how he damaged his relationship to his daughter, while on a rip-roaring rampage through Thailand to rescue her from organ traffickers, leading to wonderfully kinetic action sequences, partnered with a local law enforcement official whose associate may (or may not) be able to see the future. Paradox whips all of those elements together and tries to structure them into a coherent feature film, running the gamut of human emotions.

This is the central paradox of Paradox. The film doesn’t work at all, and yet somehow works better than it should. A lot of this is down to the charming and energetic direction of Wilson Yip, who keeps things moving even during the more earnest and heavy-handed scenes and demonstrates a cheeky sense of humour even during the film’s quieter moments. A sequence in which the local mayor has a heart attack shortly before a press conference leads to some very canny improvisation for his right-hand fixer, smuggling him past the waiting press core; all shot with charming vigour.

Paradox is a mess.  However, that’s undoubtedly part of the appeal.

I don’t normally rate films, but the Audi Dublin International Film Festival asks the audience to rank a film from 1 (worst) to 4 (best). In the interest of full and frank disclosure, I ranked this film: 2

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