PEACE BREAKER (2017) review

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A remake of Kim Seong-hun’s devilishly entertaining Korean thriller A Hard Day (2014), Lien Yi Chi’s Peace Breaker follows Gaojian Xiang (Aaron Kwok), a mildly dirty cop whose team is under investigation for corruption, and who on one fateful night, while driving slightly inebriated to his mother’s funeral, crashes into a man on the road, killing him instantly. Unwilling to deal with the consequences, Xiang puts the body in his car, and later that night, hides it in his mother’s coffin. But just as he thinks the problem is dealt with, it turns out that the man he involuntarily killed is a wanted drug dealer that is police team is being assigned to track down. And to make things worse, Chen Changmin (Wang Qianyuan), a shady cop, knows what happened that night, and is determined to force Xiang to bring him the body, which holds particular value to him…

Much like Liu Jie’s Hide and Seek, a recent Chinese remake of a Korean thriller, Peace Breaker sticks to the original so closely that its existence is barely justified beyond wide marketability to a Chinese audience. The plot and most of the dialogues of Kim Seong-hun’s film are followed beat by beat, save for a few changes of little narrative consequence: the main female part is now the lead character’s wife instead of his sister (and Liu Tao is entirely wasted in the role), one key chase scene involves a scooter rather than a car, and there is a short piece of dialogue in the final scene that makes the film’s conclusion less immoral than in the original, no doubt for censorship purposes. Even key locations are eerily similar (the lead’s apartment, the funeral home, a particular lakeside spot), despite a move from Korea to Kuala Lumpur and its outskirts. Sure, the film may be a bit more visually polished than its Korean model, with more lush and contrasted cinematography by Steve Lawes (of the Sherlock TV series), and slightly more spectacular action, but overall this feels more like a very faithful reenactment than a new take.

Still, casting brings a slightly new spin on the proceedings. Aaron Kwok obviously has more star presence than Lee Sun-kyun, and makes the character more likable and sympathetic, though he remains a frantic loser. It’s a very entertaining turn, almost worthy of a comedy of the silent era at times, with Kwok gesticulating and twitching mightily. Think Murderer, except this time he’s in on the joke, slightly less unhinged, and delivers a charismatic, comical and yet weirdly affecting performance. Opposite him, Wang Qianyuan is obviously a departure from Cho Jin-woong’s slimy, imposing intimidation, instead playing the character like a devilish jack-in-the-box, hopping, smirking, grabbing and biting Kwok’s ass, and at one point literally meowing. We could watch a panicky Kwok and a devilish Wang butt heads for a few more hours, though a headache would probably ensue.

Long Story Short: Sticking very close to its Korean model, though a bit more polished visually, Peace Breaker is fine when viewed independently, but does little to justify its existence. Still, it’s a joy to watch Aaron Kwok and Wang Qianyuan try to act each other off the screen. ***

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