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An emotionally charged thriller that concentrates more on character than action
"A War Named Desire" is a good, solid entry into Hong Kong's Triad Thriller canon. The film possesses many aspects that sets it apart from the other films of the genre, making it feel fresh and unique.
The most striking aspect of the film is the film's focus. Unlike the typical Triad thrillers of this time, "A War Named Desire" focuses mainly on the narrative and the characters so the film viewer will ultimately receive a more enriching and rewarding experience.
The narrative itself is unique in that it shows material we often do not see in the Triad genre. The film takes place entirely in Thailand and the director Siu Fai Mak paints this country as an exotic and distant land, totally unique and isolated from the rest of the world. This approach was done for several reasons: One, to enhance the feeling of separation from home we see in the younger brother, and two, to show this different country to the people of Hong Kong who may never see it otherwise.
The narrative is more concerned with the ever evolving relationship between the two brothers than with action or the criminal actions of the triad, which is what makes this move special. We become emotionally evolved with all these characters, especially the two brothers but also with the woman and her love for the older brother.
And the performances simply enhance this effect. Francis Ng is one of Hong Kong's most talented actors, he can articulate the emotions he is feeling on screen flawlessly. The performances are real and raw, nothing over the top or exaggerated as most Triad thrillers seems to have. As a result, we totally accept everything the film tries to sell us. When they reach the fatalistic climax, we are truly in suspense and worry for them because of their development and growth.
Yet the film doesn't totally disregard action, though there isn't much of it to speak of. The film climaxes with one of the most beautiful and poetic action sequences put on celluloid. The film has the participants moving around one another in balletic fashion, shooting their guns in desperation and smooth control. If you had to watch the film for one single reason, it would be for this truly stunning set piece.
However, even with all this praise there are still negatives in the film. The narrative, while emotionally riveting, suffers from pacing issues. The film lingers too long on some unnecessary scenes that don't help in accomplishing very much for the film's overall impact. This will most likely distant genre enthusiasts who are watching this film for only the action sequences, or don't care for story and merely want to be impressed by visual spectacles.
Yet those who truly appreciate film as an art form, those who appreciate to be enlightened and moved by a truly engrossing story, by those who want to see a film that is atypical of other films of its ilk, then this is a strongly recommended film.
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