THE SCOUNDRELS (2018) short review

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Rui (JC Lin) was once a rising star in the world of basketball, but a scuffle with a heckler ended his career prematurely. Now broke from having to pay the gravely injured heckler’s hospital bills, the disgraced star is reduced to working for a local mobster (Frederick Lee), putting tracking devices on cars targeted for theft. One day, he crosses paths with the infamous ‘raincoat thief’ (Wu Kang Ren), a man responsible for robbing several armored trucks in the previous months, using brutal but non-lethal methods. At first recruited by force by the thief to help him, Rui soon starts to enjoy the freedom and sense of retribution he gets from abetting him. But is he an accomplice set to share the spoils, or a tool to be tossed away after use? Hung Tzu Hsuan’s The Scoundrels is a promising debut feature, a pacey little thriller centered on the well-matched JC Lin and Wu Kang Ren’s love/hate bromance, the former coarsely juvenile yet admirably scrappy, the latter smoothly confident yet an amoral cypher. Undeterred by the visibly limited budget, Hung (who also co-wrote the film) infuses his film with a playful energy: minor surprises keep coming, and fight scenes are plentiful and choreographed – by rising Taiwanese fight coordinator Hong Shi Hao – with a distinctly Korean flair, all brutal slapstick and controlled chaos, highlighting the poetry of missed punches and kicks; it is reminiscent in particular of Jung Doo-hong’s work on Ryoo Seung-wan’s Veteran. A streak of unforced dark humor runs through the film, right to a conclusion that makes the prospect of a sequel a welcome one. It won’t happen: the film’s freshness in the current Taiwanese filmscape wasn’t rewarded by local audiences. ***1/2

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