×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Chongqing Hot Pot’

Chinese heist caper starts out as a tasty dish, but turns bland before long.

With:
Chen Kun, Bai Baihe, Qin Hao, Yu Entai, Chen Nuo, Wang Yanlin, Xia Tian, Song Wenxin, Tang Zuchui, Chen Wei. (Mandarin dialogue)
Release Date:
Apr 1, 2016

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5596352/

The Chinese crime caper “Chongqing Hot Pot” is a gas for the first 20 minutes but can’t keep its tasty elements sizzling the whole way through. Nicely set up with a quartet of likable amateurs colliding with a professional heist crew during a bank robbery, “Hot Pot” loses focus with sloppy sentimentality and heavy-duty violence that dilutes the story’s early charm. The end result is entertaining enough if not particularly memorable. Name stars Chen Kun (“Flying Swords of Dragon Gate”) and Bai Baihe (“Monster Hunt”) will attract plenty of local viewers and but staying power in offshore territories appears less encouraging. After co-opening the Hong Kong fest pic launched simultaneously in China and U.S. on April 1. “Hot Pot” bagged a whopping $28 million in first four days on local turf and posted solid per-screen figures during its opening week in North America. 

Helming a feature for the first time since his promising 2009 debut, “One Night in Supermarket,” writer-director Yang Qing sets the ball rolling in grand style. On a rainy day in downtown Chongqing a gang of masked robbers led by an unnamed boss (Wang Yanglin) march into a bank and empty the vault without a hitch. The plan goes belly-up when a motorcycle cop hears walkie-talkie messages coming from the getaway driver’s van. While searching for an alternate escape route one of the gang spots a hole in the rear of the vault. At this point the camera plunges into the void and swoops through a subterranean maze while voice-over narration informs viewers that Chongqing is famous for hot pot restaurants and a huge network of underground passages and bomb shelters.

The eye-catching subterrestrial sequence eventually leads to a flashback set in a bunker that’s been converted into a failed hot pot restaurant, whose proprietors are longtime buddies Liu Bao (Chen Kun), Xu Dong (Qin Hao) and Four Eyes (Yu Entai). Desperate to sell their disastrous enterprise, the boys have resorted to hiring customers to impress potential buyers. Needing to increase floor space to snare a sale, the trio start jackhammering without permits and accidentally wind up in the bank vault.

In a neat reversal of expectations, the lads don’t take the money and run. The plan is to cover up their unauthorized digging by repairing the hole. The tricky part is getting a team member in and out of the premises during business hours. As luck would have it an old school friend, shy girl Yu Xiaohui (Bai Baihe), works at the bank and is prepared to help. Sick of being treated like dirt by supervisor Kuang (Song Wenxin) and bitchy co-worker Miss Zhang (Xia Tian), Yu is swept up by an appealing burst of confidence and suggests they go one step further and actually rob the joint.

Yu explains her clever master plan in a fantasy sequence worthy of any top-shelf heist pic. Unfortunately this also reps the film’s high point. The remaining two-thirds suffers from abrasive tonal shifts and pedestrian pacing while various backstories and sub-plots come to light.

The film’s central performers are appealing and energetic, but their characters aren’t given much shading. Hopeless gambler Liu is deeply in debt to nasty local crook Mister Seven (Chen Nuo) and has a chain-smoking sick grandpa (Tang Zuchui) to look after. Xu’s given a nagging offscreen wife to contend with, while all that’s known about Four Eyes is that he’s sick of it all and plans to relocate to Beijing. Flashbacks to the trio’s happy teenage days as an aspiring boy band contribute little. Worst of all is Yu’s memory of a love letter she wrote to Liu all those years ago, bogging down the narrative anytime it’s mentioned, while Yu and Liu’s rekindled romance fails to register as much more than perfunctory.

There’s no shortage of very well choreographed and slickly shot action once the quartet collides with the masked robbers, hordes of cops and Mister Seven’s mean-looking crew on the day of the robbery. Having skipped along as a pacy caper with zippy shots of comedy in the early running, the film loses its sense of humor and indulges in frequently brutal violence that’s way out of kilter with what’s come before. Despite such diminishing returns, the basic likeability of the main players gives audiences just enough to hang onto by the time dust, blood and broken bones have settled.

Visuals are excellent. The moody lighting and kinetic camerawork of co-cinematographers Bai Yuxia and Liao 4wa brings an appropriately sweaty quality to proceedings. Driving, psychedelia-tinged prog-rock score by Peng Fei and Zhao Yingjun works a treat, and Lin Mu’s terrific production design could easily inspire viewers to seek out an underground hot pot dining experience should travels take them to Chongqing.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Chongqing Hot Pot'

Reviewed online, Adelaide, April 2, 2016. (In Hong Kong Film Festival — opener.) Running time: 96 MIN. (Original title: “Huo guo ying xiong”)

Production: (China) A Wuzhou Film Distribution (in China), China Lion Film Distribution (in U.S.) release of a New Classics Pictures, CFK Pictures, Wanda Media Co., Hehe Shanghai Pictures Corp. production in association with K Pictures Beijing, Heyi Pictures, Easy Entertainment, Haining Co. (International sales: Distribution Workshop, Hong Kong.) Produced by Tao Kun, James Li, Chen Kuofu. Executive producers, Chang Chialu, Cao Huayi, Jerry Ye, Allen Zhu, Lu Yao. Co-producers, Gillian Zhao, Xiao Yang, Tian Tian, Zhang Wenbo. Co-executive producers, Cheng Xiaoze, Cary Zheng, Li Ying, Angela Xiong, Jessica Chen.

Crew: Directed, written by Yang Qing. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Bai Yuxia, Liao 4wa; editor, Li Nanyi; music, Peng Fei, Zhao Yingjun; production designer, Lin Mu; costume designers, Lin Mu, Lei Shuyu; sound (stereo), Zhang Jing; stunt coordinators, Hu Lifang, Cho Dong-hyuk, Park Tae-ki; action choreographer, Lee Hong-pyo; line producer, Hu Xuan; associate producers, Zhu Mo, Felix Liu, Matthew Liu; assistant director, Dongfang Xiao: casting, Zhang Lian.

With: Chen Kun, Bai Baihe, Qin Hao, Yu Entai, Chen Nuo, Wang Yanlin, Xia Tian, Song Wenxin, Tang Zuchui, Chen Wei. (Mandarin dialogue)

More Film

  • Angelina Jolie is Maleficent and Elle

    China Box Office: Hollywood Sweeps Up With ‘Maleficent’ and ‘Gemini Man’

    The first Hollywood blockbusters to hit China in the wake of the country’s big National Day holiday have, as expected, swept away holdover patriotic titles that had previously ruled the box office, with “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” edging out fellow debut title “Gemini Man” to lead the pack with a $22.5 million opening weekend. While [...]

  • Maleficent Mistress of Evil

    Korea Box Office: 'Maleficent 2' Debuts on Top, Deposes 'Joker'

    Given a Thursday opening, “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” debuted on top of the South Korean box office. The Walt Disney release earned $4.56 million from 612,000 admissions over four days. The fantasy adventure film accounted for 37% of total weekend box office in the country. “Joker” slipped to second after remaining on top for two [...]

  • Inside an Inox Leisure multiplex in

    India's Inox Multiplex Chain Reveals Ambitious Growth Plans

    Indian multiplex chain Inox Leisure has revealed ambitious plans to more than double its existing screen capacity of 600. The company is planning to add 900 more screens across the country over the next decade. “That’s the realistic answer, but my desire is to do it over the next five years,” Siddharth Jain, director, Inox [...]

  • Joker

    Why 'Joker' Is About All of Us (Column)

    Take a look at the photo above. It’s the most poetic image to have emerged from Todd Phillips’ “Joker,” and the reason I say “poetic” isn’t just because the shot has that caught-in-action indelible vibe of a quintessential movie poster: graphic, hauntingly composed, a bit shocking (at least, the first time you see it). It’s [...]

  • Angelina Jolie is Maleficent in Disney’s

    'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' Rules International Box Office With $117 Million

    Though Disney’s “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” stumbled at the domestic box office, the Angelina Jolie-led sequel enjoyed a far stronger start overseas. The follow-up to 2014’s fantasy adventure inspired by the “Sleeping Beauty” villain took off with $117 million from 56 international markets. In North America, “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” debuted with a meager $36 [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content