After the disappointing “New Blood” and “The Death Curse,” Hong Kong director Soi Cheang leaves the horror genre behind and attacks “Love Battlefield,” a sly spin on gangster and romance pictures more worthy of his earlier promise. Meaty roles for leads Eason Chan and Niki Chow — usually in fluffier fare — as lovers caught up with a gang of mainland Chinese desperados propel a script that twists and turns in involving ways. Film performed poorly on June release against bigger local guns, but deserves sidebar showings in Asia-friendly fests.
Starting with scenes only later clarified as flashbacks, pic centers on ER nurse Yui (Chan) and his live-in partner, Ching (Chow), whose relationship is on the rocks. They decide to go on a European vacation to rejuvenate their romance, but Yui’s car is stolen just before they set out for the airport. After a furious row, Ching storms off.
These first two reels are exactly like a modern romancer directed by Joe Ma (serving as a production exec here), leading the audience up a blind alley plot-wise. Script springs the first of several surprises when Yui finds his car, opens the trunk and finds a wounded Mainland gangster inside.
Yui is kidnapped and made to tend the injured man’s wounds by gang boss Hua (Wang Zhiwen). That’s the start of an odyssey round Hong Kong which gets darker and bloodier as Yui starts to stand up to the thugs, their whole reason for being in Hong Kong goes horribly wrong (in a terrific sequence on an elevated highway), and Ching sets out to find Yui on her own.
Aside from an over-long, underwater coda, the trimly edited movie keeps the audience on its toes, never quite sure which way the story is going to move.
Chan and Chow rise to the physical challenges, nicely balancing the ice-cool perfs by Wang and Qin Hailu (“Durian, Durian”), latter as Hua’s seven-month pregnant wife. With its expect-the-unexpected-like story, but more risk-taking feel, pic sometimes plays like a more generic take on a Johnnie To crimer. Fans of Cheang’s earlier cult movies, “Diamond Hill” and “Horror Hotline…Big Head Monster” will spot the flavor. Lensing is suitably chilly and realistic.