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Ocean Flame

After his impressive helming debut with playful crimer "Green Hat," Mainland scripter-producer Liu Fendou makes a spectacular, slo-mo belly-flop with "Ocean Flame."

With: Liao Fan, Monica Mok, Hai Yitian, Simon Yam, Lam Suet, Leung Ka-yan, Sukie Shek, Paw Hee-ching, Him Law, Hui Siu-hung, Ha Da, Zhou Chuchu, Xiao Bao.

After his impressive helming debut with playful crimer “Green Hat,” Mainland scripter-producer Liu Fendou makes a spectacular, slo-mo belly-flop with “Ocean Flame,” the third and most self-consciously arty adaptation of a well-known novel by onetime Beijing bad boy Wang Shuo. Two-hour-plus yarn about a wacko petty criminal who corrupts an innocent young woman could be partly rescued by lopping some 40 minutes. As it is, pic is virtually unreleasable.

Liu has a fine eye for visuals and a penchant for toying with his audience through black comedy and temporal shifts; but these tricks, which kept “Green Hat” afloat for most of the time, run out of gas halfway here. Story takes place in flashback as Mainlander Wang Yao (Liao Fan) leaves a Hong Kong prison and visits the relatives of Lichuan (newcomer Monica Mok), whom he fell for and made part of his hotel-room sex scams blackmailing horny males. On-off, love-hate games between the two become tiresome after the hour mark and Liu’s look-at-me direction serves no dramatic purpose. Previous versions (Peter Sehr’s 2001 “Love the Hard Way,” set in Gotham; a 1989 Mainland version by Xia Gang) were equally unconvincing.

Derek Elley

Ocean Flame

Hong Kong

Production: A Filmko Entertainment production. (International sales: Filmko, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia; Katapult Film Sales, L.A., rest of world.) Produced by Simon Yam. Executive producers, Harvey Wong, Stanley Tong, Liu Xiaodan. Directed by Liu Fendou. Sceenplay, Liu, Bobo Au, from the novel "Half Flame, Half Brine" (Yiban shi huoyan, yiban shi haishui) by Wang Shuo.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Chen Ying, Chan Chor-keung; editor, Kwong Chi-leung; music, Ronald Ng; production designers, Li Yang, Raymond Kwok; costume designer, Kitty Chau. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard), May 22, 2008. Mandarin, Cantonese dialogue. Running time: 136 MIN.

With: With: Liao Fan, Monica Mok, Hai Yitian, Simon Yam, Lam Suet, Leung Ka-yan, Sukie Shek, Paw Hee-ching, Him Law, Hui Siu-hung, Ha Da, Zhou Chuchu, Xiao Bao.

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