ICEMAN: THE TIME TRAVELER (2018) review

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Law Wing Cheong’s Iceman 3D was, at the time, the most ambitious project of Donnie Yen’s rejuvenated career as a leading man; a remake of Clarence Fok’s cult classic The Iceman Cometh, with a hefty – for the Chinese film industry in 2014 – budget of 33 million dollars, it was conceived as a one-off, until a spiraling budget (Hong Kong’s Tsing Ma bridge had to be rebuilt as a set for a quarter of the film’s budget when permission to shoot on the actual one was refused) and the necessity for ever more reshoots led to the decision to release the film as a two-parter. But Iceman 3D had more scatological jokes than fights, and a shoddy grasp of its time-traveling concepts, puzzlingly eschewing the simple, pulpy pleasures of Clarence Fok’s original for something both more ambitious and less thrilling. It underperformed on release, and now four years later comes Iceman; The Time Traveler, with solid journeyman Raymond Yip taking over the helm from Law Wing Cheong.

We won’t provide a plot synopsis here, as it would be pointless and frustrating. Not so much a sequel as a ‘damagecontrolquel’ (a new term which we do not expect to catch up in any way), The Time Traveler starts with a good ten minutes of recapitulating the events of the first film, with ample plot holes papered over very, very thinly: there’s a lot of questions about how characters got from where they were at the end of the first film, to where they are at the beginning of this one – questions that will never be answered (not that anyone is likely to lose sleep over this). And the following hour feels more like a collection of cut scenes than an actual film: anyone familiar with Wake Up, Ron Burgundy: The Lost Movie, the film made with cut scenes from Adam McKay’s Anchorman, will get a similar feeling here – except the laughs are not intentional this time.

Random scenes are tied together with narration (sometimes, inner thoughts heard in voice-over, a device reminiscent of old-school Hong Kong cinema), crude CGI and greenscren abound (an entire fleet of Japanese pirates is seemingly conjured with After Effect and a dozen extras), sets are empty, a pointless love triangle is conjured out of thin air (poor Huang Shengyi and Jiang Shuying deserve much better), characters are oddly retconned (Wang Baoqiang goes from brutal grimacing psychopath to kind grimacing man of honor), and there is very little fighting until the final twenty minutes. Even then, it’s glaringly obvious that Donnie Yen and Yasuaki Kurata, who go against each other for the whole finale, were never on set at the same time.

Let’s talk about those final twenty minutes. Obviously at a complete loss as to how to finish this nightmare of a film, the filmmakers have apparently shredded the script, chewed on it ferociously, swallowed it painfully with lots of cheap gin to help it go down, then vomited the whole thing on screen. It has to be seen to be believed, and trying to describe it would not only result in our deep frustration, but it also would rob viewers of an oddly transcendental, overwhelmingly nonsensical experience. Raymond Yip and his partners in crime obviously thought that bombarding the film’s countless narrative loose ends with a hellfire of batshit-crazy ideas, would somehow make them vanish. And actually, with a more serene production and more time in the screenwriting oven, this could have been quite an amazing finale: the sight of Yen and Kurata sword-fighting in a desolate, inexplicable, time-beyond-time landscape reminiscent of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, is a particularly inspired one.

Donnie Yen, having visibly lost any sense of personal investment in the film, does the bare minimum (and Jack Wong takes over choreographing duties from Yen’s action team), while Simon Yam seems to be improvising a new villainy angle in every scene: smirky wins. Old pros Yasuaki Kurata and Chen Kuan Tai are called upon to add weight to the stakes, but they can’t do much. Wang Baoqiang is treated as a narrative afterthought, while Yu Kang is constantly seconds away from popping a vein on his forehead. This is an odd film, a disaster story set to ripple away for a while more, as Donnie Yen and the producers are involved in a defamation lawsuit, the latter claiming that the former sabotaged production with a gross lack of cooperation.

Long Story Short: While Iceman 3D was a dull misfire, Iceman: The Time Traveler is an alternatively amusing and fascinating disaster. *1/2

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1 Comment

  1. “Iceman: The Time Traveler is an alternatively amusing and fascinating disaster” lol

    Reply

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