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by Jay Seaver

"Someone forgot this conspiracy thriller's conspiracy."
1 stars

"Integrity" is the movie that took the biggest hit around here to make room for more screenings of "The Wandering Earth" (this didn't actually play until Monday despite showtimes listed starting Friday) and it turns out that's fair. This movie is a dull alleged thriller that gets more excitement out of the appearance that it will lazily use tired plot twists than anything it actually does.

As it opens, Independent Commission Against Corruption investigator King Chan (Sean Lau Ching-wan) is preparing whistleblower Jack Hui (Nick Cheung Ka-fai) to testify against employer Chan Chui Kwan (Lam Wai) and border officer Chung Ka-ling (Anita Yuen Wing-yee) in a case of smuggled cigarettes and bribery. Jack presents King with a USB drive full of documents that hint at a much larger conspiracy, but when the hearing comes, both Jack and Chan Chui Kwan have fled. Jack is tracked to Australia, so ICAC sends negotiator Shirley Chan (Karena Lam Ka-yan) - also King's ex-wife - to convince him to return, while King and his team attempt to build a case that will survive even if Jack doesn't return and reveal the mastermind behind the scenes.

One can't necessarily say that this sounds exciting - it's a lot of arcana about Hong Kong's taxes on tobacco, market manipulation to hide payments, and, crap, now they're talking about Bitcoin - but people have built good thrillers out of people lying about even less consequential things. In this case, shockingly little actually happens; the film starts by having any clever sleight-of-hand happen off-screen and seldom actually doles out the sort of information that makes the viewer want to follow a trail. There's an on-screen countdown of the seven days' extension granted ICAC by the judge that never seems to indicate time passing or urgency, and it's worth noting that there may not be a night scene in the entire film, making it feel like nobody ever has to work late on this supposedly important case. There are vague threats of dangers and masterminds but never any sign of them closing in until a couple random bits of violence happen without feeling like they've changed anything. All the manoeuvring toward the start counts for naught, and the script does a bad job of figuring out what to hint at and what to save for later.

It's a major misfire for writer/director Alan Mak Siu-fai, who also has the Infernal Affairs and Overheard series on his résumé and reportedly saw this film as the start of a new trilogy. He knows his craft as a director well enough; scenes where the characters butt heads are crisply paced and when a little bit of action is finally about to go down, there's a palpable bit of tension. He oversees a slick production, and is certain details are nifty enough to make the audience smile involuntarily, like a soundtrack that occasionally seems to become the palpitations of Jack's weak heart.

The cast should be able to save it, but even Lau Ching-wan, usually quite reliable in these crime movies, sputters out early. He's not given a real character to play much of the time, with too much actually put back in reserve after an opening when King's sexism and excessive drive offer him the chance to be an interesting anti-hero; one almost thinks his character being the secret mastermind is what you might call the obvious surprise in this sort of movie, but he needs to be less abrasive for that to be a possibility. He and Karena Lam are given no guidance of how to play King's and Shirley's relationship from scene to scene, whether they're in the same location or texting on different continents. Nick Cheung is okay, but like Lau, he seems to be playing Jack as a guy who could go either way rather than someone whose actual motivations are always there but just difficult to see without context. Truthfully, the only person who really gets a chance to play a character with a real purpose is Anthony Ho as the most focused and demonstrative guy in the ICAC office.

To top it off, the film may have the single stupidest ending ever seemingly tacked onto a Hong Kong movie to get it past China's tough-on-crime censors. It's a last bit of random inanity that is almost the best part of the movie because it at least feels like someone had to think of it, rather than just stringing a bunch of recycled plot points together. Even if it were a good finish, it would not be nearly enough to make "Integrity" feel like a corruption thriller with its own story rather than just the general outline of a movie in that subgenre.

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originally posted: 02/14/19 04:51:35
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  08-Feb-2019 (12A)

  05-Feb-2019 (M)

Directed by
  Alan Mak

Written by
  Alan Mak
  Chi-man Ling

  Ching-Wan Lau
  Nick Cheung
  Karena Lam

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