EASY MONEY (1987) review

Easy Money was Michelle Yeoh’s final film before she went into early retirement to dedicate herself to her marriage with Dickson Poon (who had been her producer via D&B Films on most of her films up to then). That didn’t quite work out and five years later she was back in business, new and improved, making quite the splash by upstaging Jackie Chan in Police Story 3. So this is the last film featuring that former incarnation of Yeoh : a more round-faced, girly-looking actress, already very beautiful and stunt-ready, but not quite as well-rounded a performer, especially in the dramatic department.

Easy Money is actually a thinly-veiled remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, with the spin of a gender-switch : Michelle Yeoh is the gentleman-thief figure formerly played by Steve McQueen and Pierce Brosnan ; former crooner George Lam takes the Faye Dunaway/Rene Russo role of the insurance investigator who gets drawn into a web of deceit and seduction that is half of his making. Kent Cheng is the dogged cop in charge of investigating a multi-million-dollar heist, thus taking the Paul Burke/Dennis Leary role : no gender-switching for this character, merely a waist-enhancing.

Unfortunately, the gender switcheroo is about the only noteworthy thing this remake attempts. The script, co-written by regular Johnnie To collaborator Wai Ka Fai, is impressively inert : for an hour or so, scenes merely fade into one another with little sense of logic, urgency or even playfulness. Stephen Shin’s direction is muddled, failing to introduce properly any of the main characters, to the point that it might be difficult for someone who hasn’t seen either of the Thomas Crown films to figure out who is who and why they do what they do. Things get livelier in a middle-sequence set in Paris that includes a solid car chase coordinated by legendary French stuntman Rémy Julienne (from a dozen James Bond films, John Woo’s Once a Thief, The Da Vinci Code…), but then it’s back to procedural dullness and half-baked seduction. Indeed, there is little to no chemistry to be found between Yeoh and Lam, which is a shame since that’s what the whole Thomas Crown concept hinges upon. Yeoh is suitably gorgeous but her role is pure nothingness : we get no insight whatsoever on why she steals, or even how she steals. And George Lam might have made 60-and-older Hong Kong housewives swoon from 1978 to 1985, but he’s hardly a match for either McQueen or Brosnan. Only Kent Cheng brings some edge as an unhinged cop, but he can’t stop this harmless film from flatlining and vanishing from the memory as soon as the credits roll.

Long Story Short : Even Michelle Yeoh can’t save this gender-switching take on The Thomas Crown Affair which has a muddled plot, inert direction and no chemistry between its leads. *


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