ETERNAL WAVE (2017) review


A loose remake of Wang Ping’s 1958 spy film The Eternal Wave, Billy Chung’s Eternal Wave follows Communist resistance fighter and political commissar Lin Xiang (Aaron Kwok) who in 1937 is sent to Japanese-occupied Shanghai to rebuild the resistance network in the city, after it was near-dismantled by a Japanese raid on its secret headquarters. There, his cover is that of a businessman, and He Lanfang (Zhao Liying) a comrade from the Communist underground is to pose as his wife. Using radio telegraphy to circulate information, Lin slowly solidifies the network again, but he soon comes  under suspicion from Japanese Intelligence officer Masako (Zhang Lanxin) and Chinese traitor Qin Fengwu (Simon Yam).

With its smooth, sturdy Aaron Kwok parkouring on the roofs of Shanghai, Zhang Lanxin as a sexy high-kicking Japanese villain, dastardly Simon Yam and his skull-adorned cane and Hercule Poirot mustache, a cabaret decorated with an actual shark tank, and Han Zhang struggling with his conscience as a Chinese collaborating with the Japanese invader, all the while dressed in Sherlock Holmes’ overcoat and deerstalker (what’s with this film and legendary detectives?), Eternal Wave is closer to the pulpy, action-packed, leather-clad brawn of Andrew Lau’s Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, than the elegance, wartime tragedy and mind-teasing intricacies of Chen Kuofu and Gao Qunshu’s The Message. In fact, it makes Legend of the Fist look like a Ken Burns documentary about the second Sino-Japanese War. Papering over the complexities of wartime intelligence gathering and communication with vague montages, it’s more interested in hitting the usual notes of the genre: the Chinese collaborator’s crisis of conscience (admittedly compellingly – if a bit broadly – portrayed by Han Zhang), the increasingly elaborate torture scene (very difficult to watch), the violent raid on a newspaper’s headquarters, piano-playing at a fancy cabaret…

The love story shoehorned into the film is entirely chemistry-free, unbalanced by the contrast between Kwok’s cardboard-cutout performance (a single character trait: heroism) and Zhao Liying’s much more affecting turn, the film’s heart despite often being sidelined. Often, Eternal Wave feels like a whole season of spy TV series, crammed awkwardly into a concise feature film’s runtime: character who look like they will factor decisively into the story, like Simon Yam’s cruel yet not inhuman traitor or Zhu Yilong’s pianist turned resistance fighter, are constantly downplayed before being discarded unceremoniously. Yet while Yam is never really allowed to chew scenery (though his wardrobe often steals the show), Zhang Lanxin is charismatic and great fun as a Japanese officer who never misses a chance to kick really, really high, and meets an end worthy of an Indiana Jones villain.

Long Story Short: A pulpy spy thriller, Eternal Wave is passably entertaining but often muddled, and more amusing than stirring. **1/2



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