×

Film Review: ‘Savage’

The debut feature by Chinese screenwriter Cui Siwei is a solid action-thriller set on a snow-covered mountain.

Director:
Cui Siwei
With:
Chang Chen, Liao Fan, Ni Ni
Release Date:
May 3, 2019

Running time: 112 MIN.

Official Site: https://www.wellgousa.com/films/savage

An above-average action thriller set in the snow-covered environs of Baekdu Mountain on the China-North Korea border, “Savage” marks a confident directing debut for Chinese screenwriter Cui Siwei (“The Island”). This no-nonsense affair about a dogged detective squaring off with a trio of vicious crooks packs plenty of excitement and visual splendor into a familiar scenario, and is well performed by a top-notch cast including Chang Chen (“The Assassin”) and Liao Fan (“Black Coal, Thin Ice”). Another example of China’s increasing ability to produce slick commercial fare with broad international appeal, “Savage” opened strongly in local cinemas on April 30 and ought to perform credibly in North America when released by Well Go USA on May 3.

Produced by veteran hitmaker and frequent John Woo collaborator Terence Chang (“Hard-Boiled,” “Reign of Assassins”), “Savage” shared the New Currents Award (given to best first or second film) at Busan with the South Korean psychodrama “Clean Up” — a notable feat considering Cui’s screenplay contains virtually none of the social or political complexity usually associated with Chinese films that make waves at festivals. The name of the game here is stylish execution of a simple and fast-paced plot that contains sufficient character development and emotional weight to keep viewers involved.

The closest we get to anything deep and meaningful is in the opening voiceover narration by Wang Kanghao (Chang Chen), a detective posted to a desolate town in the shadow of Baekdu Mountain, a peak with deep spiritual significance for many Koreans. Describing a place that’s fallen into decline since logging of nearby forests was banned, Wang says, “I never saw those good times.” Instead, the mild-mannered cop is left to round up outlaw loggers with work buddy Han Xiaosong (Li Guangjie) and compete with him for the affections of Sun Yan (Ni Ni, “The Flowers of War”), a dedicated local doctor in line for a transfer to Beijing.

Wang’s scene-setting observations are interrupted by a terrific set piece in which an armored truck loaded with gold and a police escort vehicle are sent plummeting from a treacherous mountain road by an avalanche of massive logs. Perpetrators of the ambush are granite-faced crime boss Damao (Liao Fan), his cocky, bleach-blond kid brother Ermao (Zhang Yicong), and psychopathic sidekick Zhang (Huang Jue, “Long Day’s Journey into Night”).

After witnessing Han’s death at the hands of the robber trio during a random encounter, Wang assumes the time-honored role of a vengeance-obsessed lone wolf that won’t obey rules or listen to reason until the lowlifes that killed his pal are made to pay. Wang’s chance arrives when Damao’s crew return to the area to move the hidden loot before a deadly blizzard sets in. Cui’s taut screenplay alternates between Wang’s relentless pursuit of Ermao and Zhang, and a mountain resort where Damao is holding Sun hostage. A winning wild card in the mix is Guo San (Liu Hua), a grizzled old guide who turns traitor while supposedly helping Wang find his prey.

Taking his cues from Westerns of classical and spaghetti varieties, Cui keeps things interesting with shifting allegiances, double-crosses and an abundance of suspenseful stalkings, shootings, and fistfights in sub-zero temperatures. The spoonful of warmth required to maintain viewers’ emotional investment in the tale is delivered by Wang and Sun’s appealing slow-burn romance.

Stylishly filmed in widescreen by Du Jie (“The Wasted Times”) and briskly edited by Du Yuan, “Savage” features outstanding visual effects that make it impossible to spot where the real blizzard stops and the computer-generated one begins. All other technical aspects are first-class.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: ‘Savage’

Reviewed online in Adelaide, May 2, 2019. (In Busan Film Festival.) Running time: 112 MIN. (Original title: “Xue bao”)

Production: (China) A Huaxia Film Distribution, Shannan Guangxian Pictures (in China), Well Go USA (in U.S.) release of a Mai Song Film Investment (Shanghai), Helichenhuang Int'l Culture Media (Beijing), Hehe Pictures Corp., Horgos Youth Enlight Pictures production. (Int'l sales: Times Vision, Beijing.) Producer: Terence Chang.

Crew: Director, screenplay: Cui Siwei. Camera (color, widescreen): Du Jie. Editor: Du Yuan.

With: Chang Chen, Liao Fan, Ni Ni, Zhang Yicong, Huang Jue, Liu Hua, Li Guangjie, Liu Hua. (Mandarin dialogue)

More Film

  • Banijay Rights Signs First Look Deal

    Banijay Rights Signs First Look Deal with Tigerlily Prods.

    Seeking to expand its scripted offering, Banijay Rights has signed a first look development deal with Tigerlily Productions, a U.K. production company whose credits include David Farr’s “The Ones Below” and “Remainder” with Tom Sturridge. The deal covers scripted programming developed, created and produced by Tigerlily for the U.K. and international markets. More Reviews Locarno [...]

  • Blanco-en-Blanco

    Stray Dogs Picks Up Int’l Sales Rights to Venice-bound ‘Blanco en Blanco’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    SANTIAGO, Chile – In the run-up to the upcoming 76th Venice Int’l Film Festival, Paris-based Stray Dogs has closed international sales rights on Chilean drama “Blanco en Blanco,” which holds its world premiere in the festival’s Horizons sidebar. Filmed last year in the frigid tundra of Chile’s Tierra de Fuego and Spain’s tropical Canary Islands, [...]

  • Gerard Butler Angel Has Fallen

    Film Review: 'Angel Has Fallen'

    “Angel Has Fallen” marks the third time that Gerard Butler, as the Secret Service agent and scowling samurai cowboy Mike Banning, has had to rescue the President of the United States from an international conspiracy so cuckoo bananas that the movie barely expects you to believe it. (Actually, in the six years since this series [...]

  • Jessica

    Ninja Thyberg's Female POV Porn Industry Portrait Seduces Buyers (EXCLUSIVE)

    HAUGESUND, Norway  —  Paris-based Versatile has announced a raft of pre-sales on Ninja Thyberg’s debut feature “Jessica,” set in the adult entertainment industry in L.A. World distributors that have pre-bought the Swedish drama take in Weltkino for Germany/Austria, Xenix for Switzerland, MK2/Mile End for Canada, KTH for South Korea and Movie Could for Taïwan. Several [...]

  • Sony Pictures: 'We Are Disappointed' by

    Sony 'Disappointed' by Disney's Divorce on 'Spider-Man' Projects

    Sony Pictures has gone public over its divorce with Disney on future “Spider-Man” projects. In a rare public rebuke to Disney, Sony announced Tuesday night that it was “disappointed” over the decision, highlighting Disney’s refusal to allow Marvel President Kevin Feige to continue as a producer on the projects. It also praised Feige, who teamed [...]

  • Good Boys Movie

    ‘Good Boys’ Again Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the always-on TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Universal Pictures claims the top spot in spending for the second week in a row with “Good Boys.” Ads placed for the comedy had an estimated media value of $4.42 million through Sunday for [...]

  • Demi Lovato

    Demi Lovato Joins Netflix Comedy 'Eurovision'

    Demi Lovato has joined the upcoming Netflix comedy film “Eurovision.” Will Ferrell, who co-wrote the film with Andrew Steele, announced the news Tuesday with an Instagram post, in which he wished Lovato a happy birthday with a “homemade” cake. Following the announcement, Lovato can be seen blowing out candles on the cake next to a “Eurovision” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content