TWO TIGERS (2019) review

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In Li Fei’s Two Tigers, Ge You plays Zhang Chenggong, a rich, lonely businessman who gets kidnapped by hapless loser Yu Kaixuan (Qiao Shan): acting alone, Yu asks for a one million RMB ransom, under threat of death. But Zhang quickly realizes that his abductor is rather harmless and out of his depth, and he strikes a deal with him: if Yu completes three tasks for him, he will give him double the expected ransom. The first task is to deliver a message to his ex-girlfriend Zhou Yuan (Zhao Wei), an actress whose career is declining. The second one is to help him make amends to Master Fan (Fan Wei), an old comrade from his army days, who went blind when he refused to lend him money for eye surgery. And the final task is to deliver a letter to his father, with the help of an old flame, Caixia (Yan Ni). Along the way, the prisoner and his abductor form an unlikely bond.

Two Tigers starts like a Coen-esque black comedy of stupidity (with a hilariously half-assed kidnapping) then takes a detour into meta territory (Zhao Wei plays an actress who struggles to emote, before giving a masterclass of emotion as herself), turns rambunctiously funny for a while (Pan Binlong cameos as a former bully who gets his just deserts twenty years late), then subtly gut-wrenching (the great Fan Wei anchors a matter-of-fact yet powerful scene of forgiveness), before sadly ending in a wishy-washy mix of platitudes and ambiguity, despite the luminous presence of Yan Ni in the final stretch. It’s all the more unfortunate as all along these small, seamless shifts in tone, the central duo of Ge You and Qiao Shan is very effective, the former ever the minimalist, wry yet touching, and the latter playing broader but with great warmth and humanity. They share a quietly affecting bond, despite the sometimes obnoxiously on-the-nose music that accompanies them. And as Zhang’s life is explored through the tasks he asks his abductor to complete, each of the illustrious guest stars greatly flesh out this central character with the mere minutes they have onscreen. It’s especially good to see Zhao Wei, back on the big screen after a three-year hiatus.

Long Story Short: Two Tigers benefits from a superb cast and an effectively wry and bittersweet tone, but ends in disappointing platitudes and ambiguity. ***

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