LOST IN WHITE (2016) review

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The directorial debut of cinematographer Xu Wei (who most notably lensed Cheng Er’s Lethal Hostage), Lost in White takes places in the north-east of China, where two bodies have been found under the ice of a frozen lake, their remains made unidentifiable by carnivorous fish, but still bearing the mark of having been dragged with an ice hook. In charge of the investigation is Captain Zhou (Tony Leung Ka Fai), a dedicated cop who’s dragging along his teenage daughter Xinyi (Zhou Dongyu), with whom he should be spending quality time instead, since she’s only with him for a few days. Soon he’s joined by Wang Hao (Tong Dawei) a young Shanghai detective who’s on a missing person case that has led him to the same village where the murders happened. The two cases prove to be connected: the missing person and the two victims were part of a quartet of businessmen who ten years ago opened a refinery in the region, and disposed of chemical waste in an unethical way that has poisoned the waters and led to malformed babies in the following decade. Is the missing businessman the killer, the next victim or a red herring?

Lost in White is that kind of frustrating film that’s both very well produced and disappointingly familiar and unchallengingly written. Luc Besson’s cinematographer of choice, Thierry Arbogast, does wonders with the snowy, often nightly settings, emphasizing the frozen beauty of the landscapes while streaking them with fiery or bloody red. Taro Iwashiro’s score is all anguished strings, ominous choirs and tense saxophone, bringing an enjoyable sense of atmosphere that is overt but not over-the-top. And Choi Dong-heon, who orchestrated the action in 2014’s dark Korean gem A Hard Day, puts together a few excitingly slippery car chases.

But at its core, Lost in White remains a rehash of thriller tropes that date back to the nineties or even the eighties in Hollywood. Tong Dawei is introduced chasing a perp at the peril of his life, before being admonished for his recklessness by his superior officer. But he doesn’t care, because “that’s not how you get things done”. Zhou Dongyu as the teenage daughter is only there to humanize her dour father and be put in danger for the climax (with a few practice endangerments before that). Tony Leung Ka Fai plays the same kind of over-dedicated cop with family issues as in Ringo Lam’s The Victim and Chen Kuo Fu’s Double Vision (two excellent performances), but without half the character detail that made these former roles so poignant and interesting.

The pairing of a hot-headed young cop and a wise older cop is another trope, one that is often interesting but here quite stale: despite Tony Leung’s charisma and Tong Dawei’s charm, there’s little chemistry between the two, and you can’t really fault them for that since all they’ve got to work with is a forced enmity in the beginning and a few perfunctory conversation on what it means to be a good cop. The plot is reasonably interesting and contains a few surprises and no major holes, but it plays out in a rather pedestrian way, loosing its sense of mystery quite early on and too often moving along with forced clues and expositional shortcuts. Still, with its sharp 90-minute runtime Lost in White is never less than solid entertainment.

Long Story Short: Lost in White is an efficient but familiar thriller, unchallengingly written but classily produced. **1/2

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