THE MISSING (2017) review

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For her seventh film as a director, Xu Jinglei left her comfort zone of romantic comedies and relationship dramas to tackle a ticking clock thriller in which Bai Baihe plays Lin Wei, a detective whose five-year-old daughter Dian Dian has been kidnapped, and who receives a mysterious phone calls from the kidnapper (Stanley Huang), who is about to tell her where her daughter is, when his car is hit by a truck. His name is Yang Nian, and when he wakes up in a hospital room, he has no memory of his past. After being attacked  by a mysterious assassin who murdered the two cops standing guard in front of his room, the obviously highly-trained Yang escapes, with Lin Wei in hot pursuit. Now while he tries to piece back together his past, the amnesiac must escape not only the police, but also assassins sent by a mobster he seems to have been close to in his past, as well as Lin Wei, who though suspended from the case, has decided to keep looking for her daughter. Soon, she must reluctantly team up with Yang.

Though the ticking-clock ‘kidnap and rescue’ set-up and the ‘highly-trained amnesiac looking for answers’ scenario are two of the most familiar thriller premises, The Missing combines them in an interesting way: you don’t often see a parent looking for their child with the help of the kidnapper himself. You also don’t often see romantic leads Bai Baihe and Stanley Huang in action roles. The film is directed with a sure hand by Xu Jinglei (who also appears briefly near the end of the film), who proves just as comfortable with action and grit as she is with feelings and comedy. There are some very solid action scenes where Huang (who here is shirtless more often than Matthew McConaughey in the 2000s) makes for a believable lethal hero, while Bai has excellent, hard-edged presence in her cop role, and does fine in a brutal final fight atop a skyscraper.

But The Missing is unfortunately so clumsily written that it only rarely gather tension or emotion. Apart from a few plot holes and shortcuts that can easily be ignored, there’s a crucial emotional void at the center of the film, as Dian Dian, the kidnapped daughter, is only ever glimpsed in hazy flashbacks: for the sake of brevity, or maybe out of over-confidence, Xu and her writer Yang Yishu do not take time to establish the family unit, as the film begins in medias res. The mother-daughter relationship is non-existent and it even takes a while to realize that Lin Wei is a single parent. To make things worse, Bai Baihe seems most of the time more irate than desperate; she looks like she lost her keys, not her daughter (imagine Pierre Morel’s Taken, except Maggie Grace is never seen and Liam Neeson looks miffed rather than deadly determined). And key supporting roles are so bland – Ming Dao and Mason Lee barely register – that when they are integrated to major plot twists, these plot twists play out more like labored epilogues than like the dramatic reversals they are supposed to be.

Long Story Short: An entertaining but dramatically weak thriller. **1/2

 

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