INTEGRITY (2019) review

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After the over-the-top stylings of his Mainland undercover thriller Extraordinary Mission, Alan Mak returns home to the twisty psychological Hong Kong crime thriller. Co-produced by his brother-in-filmmaking Felix Chong, Integrity follows King (Lau Ching Wan), an officer of the ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption, for those who’ve never seen a Hong Kong film of the past 10 years), who is grooming corporate accountant and whistleblower Lui (Nick Cheung) to testify in court against a tobacco trading company and a customs officer (Anita Yuen) accused of collusion and bribery in smuggling cigarettes onto the black market. But on the day of the hearing, Lui absconds to Australia, seemingly struck with cold feet. But as King’s colleague (and estranged wife) Shirley (Karena Lam) is dispatched to Australia to bring him back, it soon appears that he’s much more than a simple whistleblower, and his escape to Australia isn’t motivated by fear.

With its ICAC plot, starry cast, polished visuals, and almost complete lack of action scenes, Integrity appears as an A-list, thinking-man’s version of the increasingly successful Z Storm franchise. As in Infernal Affairs and Overheard, the two trilogies he co-wrote with Felix Chong (and indeed, Integrity is envisioned as the start of a trilogy), Alan Mak eschews quick thrills and spectacle in favor of splitting the color grey into as many subtle shades as possible. A laudable intention, but one that unfortunately spells utter boredom here. The film’s crux, a trial for smuggling and bribery is desperately mundane and uninvolving, never evolving beyond questions of arcane illegal transactions. There are twists and turns, but they range from the listless – there’s a full roster of bland, interchangeable characters whose allegiances and fate are impossible to care about – to the ludicrous: last-reel flashbacks bring thudding revelations while showcasing that creepy, rubber-faced de-aging CGI that would be overstaying its welcome, if it had ever been welcome.

And even the leads are underused. Lau Ching Wan gets the most (the only?) interesting characters, a dogged ICAC agent whose methods the ICAC often veer dangerously close to the kind of law-bending the ICAC is precisely supposed to fight. He shares very few scenes with Nick Cheung, who anyway is doing the bare minimum, a cypher we don’t even wish to decode. Karena Lam gets the thankless task of bouncing between them, in an unappealing, at times annoying role as a spiky agent. And spare a thought for Alex Fong, wasted yet again as a dour superior officer (a role he must surely be getting tired of playing), and Anita Yuen, who in her welcome comeback deserves more than such short screen-time and instantly-forgotten character.

Long Story Short: Dull and ponderous, Integrity isn’t in danger of becoming the new Infernal Affairs, Overheard, or even Cold War. **

 

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7 Comments

  1. I skimmed this one. I’m a little frustrated. Reading these when I typically can’t experience the films is really annoying. Nothing on you or this. It’s just me and my negative reaction to the system which doesn’t well allow my viewings.

    Reply
    • Where do you live?

      Reply
      • Western United States. You?

        Reply
        • France. Trust me, much more Chinese films come out in the US than in France, though I guess it depends on where in the US you live.

          Reply
          • ashiusx

             /  May 25, 2019

            So, do you watch these movies often with English subtitles or French ones?

            Reply
          • Okay. And we probably have some vast stranglehold conspiracy to thank for what we do get. I want more available in my area of course and to play longer nearby. But am powerless to do anything about it but see what I find and tell anyone who likes something different as do I. Thanks.

            Reply

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