THE SHANGHAI JOB (aka S.M.A.R.T. CHASE) (2017) review


Danny Stratton (Orlando Bloom) is a private security agent whose career suffered a deadly blow when a priceless Van Gogh painting was stolen on his watch by Long Fei (Shi Yanneng), a mysterious thief. Now his company S.M.A.R.T. (Security Management Action Recovery Team), which also includes Mach (Simon Yam), J. Jae (Hannah Quinlivan) and Ding Dong (Leo Wu), has been given a shot at redemption: to escort a valuable antique Chinese vase from Shanghai to London. But they’re once again ambushed, and once again Long Fei is the thief: it soon appears that he works for Tara Yen (Liang Jing), a wealthy arts dealer. Danny and his team decide to track her down and retrieve not only the vase, but also the Van Gogh. But things keep escalating as Tara Yen has Danny’s girlfriend Ling Mo (Lynn Xong) kidnapped.

Director Charles Martin is a TV director with episodes of Skins and Wallander (among many others) under his belt, and so it is perhaps not so surprising that The Shanghai Job plays more like a solid pilot for a network TV series than a fully-fledged film. Opening and closing with platitudes about time (“time just keeps on going”, that kind of eye-opener) as if to hint at some depth beneath the action, and sprinkled throughout with platitudes about love (“love is an illusion”, that kind of mind-blower), the latter often intoned by Liang Jing’s slinky villain as if to give the character some depth, it’s a fairly routine chase film.

Its characters are perfunctorily-drawn, with Danny Stratton’s team a collection of clichés: Simon Yam is the wise-cracking, slightly unhinged right-hand man (though barely intelligible in English, the Coolest Actor on Earth still doesn’t need to break a sweat to overshadow his co-stars), Hannah Quinlivan is the impulsive tomboy (a cringe-worthy performance that evokes a teenager deprived of WiFi more than an competent security agent), and Leo Wu is the charmingly nerdy tech guy, who operates a drone that’s a constant provider of narrative shortcuts. Relationships are quickly drawn and often pointless, such as the one that involves Stratton and Ling Mo (a mere set-up for a damsel-in-distress third act), or an even more gratuitous flirtation between Ding Dong and his dancing crush Nana. Again, these quick sketches of characters and relationships are reminiscent of a TV pilot that’s just planting seeds for future episodes.

Still, Orlando Bloom is here a surprisingly solid and charming hero, with a few wrinkles adding some dramatic weight to the erstwhile overly-smooth actor, though dying his hair blonde is a puzzling choice, to say the least. And at 85 minutes, the films moves briskly, with well-shot chase scenes that showcase the diverse urban landscapes of Shanghai. Fight scenes on the other hand, are mostly over too quickly and don’t make much use of Shi Yanneng’s considerable talents as a martial arts performer, while the nightclub-set climax is not much of a climax at all, a very quick scuffle that ends the film with a whimper.

Long Story Short: A competent but routine chase thriller, with a good cast wasted on blandly-written characters, and a strangely anti-climactic ending. **1/2

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