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Love Battlefield
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by Jay Seaver

"An intense action movie hides behind its chick-flick opening."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2005 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: From the way "Love Battlefield" starts, one would think that the title is metaphorical: Yui (Eason Chan) and Ching (Niki Chow), both from Hong Kong, meet cute vacationing in the country (Yui fishes her shoe out of the water). They connect, and what follows is a series of more-or-less random clips from their relationship over the next year, where we see them in love, but also ready to snap at each other over tiny, unimportant things. Things come to a head when their car is stolen just before they're about to leave on a European vacation that doesn't particularly excite Yui (the climate is too chilly for his taste). He says they should call the police, she says he's trying to get out of a trip he doesn't want to take. "We should just break up!", she yells, and there's something painfully final about it. Someone coming in cold, who doesn't know what these scenes are holding in reserve, might settle in for a drama about the two trying to mend their relationship. Boy, are they in for a surprise.

Because Yui decides not to go to the police station, and on his way back spots their car. But when he opens the back, he doesn't find their luggage, but instead a wounded man pointing a gun in his face, asking how long he's been an ER nurse. Soon, he's surrounded by men with guns, demanding he take them back to their apartment and treat the injured member of their gang. Soon, Ching will be the only one who sees that Yui has been kidnapped, and she'll be running from the police, too, as they think Yui is part of the gang and want to hold her for questioning. But the gangsters' leader, Wah (Zhiwen Wang), just realizes that it would be useful to have someone who knows some medicine along. He's right, too, and not just because they've already got someone going into shock. There's a lot of injuries coming up.

Love Battlefield features a bunch of great, messy action. Bullet wounds are seldom as clear-cut in their effects as they look in action movies; while in real life you'll occasionally get the instant kill or even the mythical shoulder or leg wound that a movie character can grimace and bear, internal bleeding and shattered bones are much more likely. So even as Yui is patching the bad guys up, they're still dipping into the "product" they've been assigned to deliver to relieve the pain, and their strength and stamina is constantly deteriorating during the course of the movie. Despite all the ordnance being sprayed around, a bullet wound is a big deal. Of course, the nastiest-looking death doesn't come from the barrel of a gun, but to say more would be telling. There are a number of impressive action bits, including at least two noteworthy gunfights, an underwater sequence, and a crowded highway segment features a lot of cars flying around and more pedestrians than I imagine Hollywood would be comfrotable with.

Leads Chan and Chow are likable individually, but don't get to play off each other as much as one would hope - after the opening portion, the plot exists to separate them, forcing them to try to protect and rescue each other from a distance. It's a good and a bad thing, I suppose - if the writer had given them more a couple of scenes together after that first scene, we'd probably get a whole movie full of bickering that would perhaps minimize how dangerous the situation around them seems; on the other hand, it puts a great deal of weight on the brief scenes they do share. Fortunately, those opening scenes are strong enough to bear it. It's a tricky balance, because director Cheang Pou-soi has to have his cast demonstrate that these two really do love each other, while at the same time not making their fight seem like just a cheap device to separate them because the set-up requires them to be in separate places. It's works well enough, and Cheang never hits us over the head with how they instinctively fight for each other when the stakes are high despite their problems in everyday life.

How his character instinctively acts is a big part of what makes Eason Chan's character so believable. Most everymen placed into his dangerous situation would come closer to freezing up than he does, but he works in the ER, and has seen grisly trauma before. He doesn't think twice before rendering medical aid, even though he do doubt feels the gangsters are getting what's coming to them and when you get right down to it, refusing treatment could potentially be powerful leverage. He's believably frightened or paralyzed when he's not treating an injured man, but Chan makes us believe that Yui can be both cool under pressure and scared out of his wits.

Niki Chow is the one with a little more steel in her backbone - after all, it's Yui who relents after the opening fight - but she doesn't come off as over-capable, either. Her main strength is also arguably her greatest weakness, a refusal to back down. She makes Ching the sort of woman that it must be maddening to go out with - she's beautiful, intelligent, and just never gives in. Also noteworthy are Zhiewn Wang as the ruthless but calculating Wah and Hailu Qin as his wife, who presents a tricky conundrum for the other characters in terms of what is and is off limits. She also has a few tense scenes with Ms. Chow, two determined women not backing down.

If the movie has a weakness, it's in the end. The movie has been harsh and uncompromising with its action, and while the finale is as blood-soaked as any other scene, it gets more melodramatic. It's tough to have Yui both administering to injuries and fighting back, so the gangsters' united front starts to crack. You also get more characters continuing to fight despite having a bullet or three in them, and an underwater sequence that made me wonder just how long these folks could hold their breath. In most action movies, I probably wouldn't mind, but this one had raised the bar somewhat on realistic action.

It's still a very strong movie, with a sweet opening that turns sad as well as some painfully brutal violence in its action scenes. It takes no small amount of skill to make both extremes fit so well into the same movie.

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originally posted: 07/19/05 12:07:43
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Fantasia Festival For more in the 2005 Fantasia Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Pou-Soi Cheang

Written by
  Joe Ma

  Eason Chan
  Niki Chow
  Kenny Kwan
  Carl Ng
  Hailu Qin
  Zhiwen Wang

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