THE LONGEST SHOT (2019) review

A milestone Chinese-Australian coproduction and the debut feature of advertisement director Xu Shunli, The Longest Shot is set in 1930s Shanghai, and follows aging, solitary hitman Zhao (Wang Zhiwen), whose early onset of Parkinson’s disease spells the end of both his dangerous job and his hobby as a watchmaker. Still haunted by the death of his son and by a fatal mistake he made years ago, he decides to take a final job, brought to him by his friend and middleman Du (Li Lichun). This final job is actually two final jobs, two targets to be eliminated on the same day and the same place: Peter (Christopher Downs) and Libo (Xu Yajun), two Shanghai kingpins who’ve been at each other’s throats for a while, threatening the order of things in the French Concession. But nothing is what it seems, strings are being pulled left and right, and the aging hitman finds himself in the center of a tangled web of deceit.

“Tangled” is the key word here. Right from the beginning, The Longest Shot bombards the audience with a vast ensemble of key players: with no less than five power figures scheming against one another, five hitmen or henchmen with shifting allegiances and/or mysterious motives, not to mention another two or three characters both weaving the web and tangled in it, this is a convoluted plot. Solid screenwriting means that the film never becomes a mess, and can be followed and understood by the active spectator, but the surfeit of key characters also makes it difficult to delve much into any of them within a two-hour runtime, giving their double-crosses a feeling of indifference.

This obviously is at least partly intentional, as the protracted finale levels the field with sardonic glee, as if to laugh at the pointlessness of all the scheming that’s been taking place. But it also makes it difficult to care about anything or anyone, except the central character of Zhao, played with low-key charisma and bitter irony by a superb Wang Zhiwen. Yet though second-billed, Yu Nan is puzzlingly relegated to the lateral and ineffectual role of a disposable trophy girlfriend. Still, this is a classy production through and through: Zhao Xiaoshi’s cinematography has a cold lushness to it, Burkhard Dallwitz and Brett Aplin’s score has welcome shades of Philip Glass, Rodney Sweet’s art direction is gorgeously precise (which comes in handy as clothing is a key plot point here) and a few short but impactful fight scenes are peppered throughout.

Long Story Short: A classy Shanghai film noir with a superb central performance by Wang Zhiwen, The Longest Shot nevertheless suffers from an over-convoluted plot that’s not so much difficult to follow as it is difficult to care about. **1/2

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