THE BIG SHOT (2019) review

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After headlining the 2017 Chinese remake of the 2014 Korean thriller A Hard Day, and before headlining the 2019 Chinese remake of the 2013 Korean thriller Montage, Wang Qianyuan headlines the 2019 Chinese remake of the 2015 Korean thriller Veteran. And so we follow Sun Dasheng (Wang), a headstrong cop who despite – or because of – unconventional methods and a loose relationship to hierarchy, gets the job done and has acquired a reputation as a star detective, along with his team (including Wang Yanhui and Qu Jingjing). Under pressure from his wife (Mei Ting) to enter a lottery for housing in a school-friendly area for their son, Sun is introduced by a friend to Zhao Tai (Bao Bei’er), a property developer, heir to the powerful Zhao Shi conglomerate. Brutal, arrogant and entitled to the point of psychosis, Zhao thinks himself above the law, objectifying and humiliating everyone around him with no fear of repercussion. But when a friend of Sun’s, who went to Zhao to complain about having his home destroyed by his company with no compensation, is is left in a coma by an apparent suicide attempt, Sun Dasheng decides to get to the bottom of things, in the process starting a war with Zhao Tai.

The Big Shot doesn’t make any significant narrative or visual alterations to Ryoo Seung-wan’s Veteran. Much like Liu Jie’s Hide and Seek and Lien Yi-Chi’s Peace Breaker, it keeps the original’s structure intact, obviously relocating the plot to China, but without it yielding any major narrative discrepancies or any interesting comparisons: the hero’s wife isn’t a social worker but a nurse this time; unions were the crux of the initial conflict, now it’s forceful expropriation… Nothing plot-shattering. But contrary to the aforementioned two Chinese remakes, The Big Shot does streamline its model’s narrative: there’s less banter, action scenes are less protracted and some characters are absent, or much less present. As a result, the film is shorter by 25 minutes, its 100-minute runtime much more appropriate to the genre than Veteran‘s typically Korean, over-extended 125 minutes; but this comes at a price: the original’s already underused scene-stealer, Jang yoon-ju’s potty-mouthed, high-kicking detective Boon, is now barely an afterthought (a double shame since she’s played by the promising Qu Jingjing).

Judged on its own terms, The Big Shot is a pacey, consistently funny action comedy, but it’s a bit hard to ignore the fact that its best assets and moments are inevitably retreads of Veteran: the hard-hitting, inventive, borderline slapstick action scenes (by Zheng Hong) hew closely to Jung Doo-hong’s superlative work on the original, and so do the . The comedy, especially a hilarious scene where the detectives strip down to flaunt battle scars, is also lifted directly (elsewhere, the banter is less inspired than in Ryoo Seung-wan’s film). Even a short visual gag like the “missed jump-kick followed by a successful jump-kick” (a poor description on our part, but those who have seen Veteran will recognize the moment) is a literal quote.

The Chinese cast holds up in comparison to the Korean one. Wang Qianyuan carries the film as brashly, quirkily and confidently as Hwang Jeong-min did, but the surprise comes from Bao Bei’er, in an inspired instance of casting against type. The comedic actor, used to awkward and bumbling types, is simply chilling here. The character is the same walking, talking caricature as in the original, but here comes in a more unsettling package, Bao’s baby-faced menace and hideous tantrums a more effective magnet for loathing than Yoo Ah-in’s pretty-boy smarm. Wang and Bao’s final confrontation actually packs a stronger punch than Hwang and Yoo’s, in no small part thanks to the novelty factor of seeing Bao pose a palpable physical threat. Wang Yanhui offers more low-key and weathered – but no less appealing – support than Oh Dal-su, while Mei Ting makes the most, with her customary class, of the wife role.

Long Story Short: Another fine but unnecessary Chinese remake of a Korean film, The Big Shot owes its best bits to the original, but is nevertheless a solid, hard-hitting action comedy when watched on its own terms. ***

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