Limbo is a gritty stylized noir Hong Kong thriller from Soi Cheang, director of SPL 2 and Accident. Adapted from a Chinese crime novel by Lei Mi, the film features beautiful black-and-white cinematography, impressive production design, and solid performances from its three leads, especially from actress Yase Liu.
Will Ren, a rookie cop is assigned with Lau, a veteran cop, to investigate a series of brutal murders across east Kowloon.
Lau runs into Wong To, a down-and-out car thief on parole with whom he shares a dark past with, and recruits her to be an informant to search for the murderer.
Milkyway veteran Cheng Siu Keng's digital black and white cinematography is gorgeous and rich in contrast, creating a moody nihilistic atmosphere and transforms familiar Hong Kong locales into an unfamiliar Asian city where only bad things happen.
Kenneth Mak's production design is meticulous, sculpting the Hong Kong cityscape into a hyper-stylized setting that's something out of an adult graphic novel. For instance, the police station was fashioned out of a local Hong Kong market, creating an underground cavernous office, desks full of unsolved cases and cluttered with wornout cops.
There is so much garbage everywhere littered throughout the entire film. My first thought was, "That's some beautifully arranged garbage. Look at the contrast and texture!" Eventually, watching endless scenes of people rummaging through garbage makes it feel like the rubbish is on you. I took a shower before watching Limbo and wanted a second immediately after the end.
The grimness, while stylistically engaging, paints the film into a corner that does it a disservice. It is like Soi Cheang is squeezing out every last bit of the Grim brand toothpaste and there's no speck of hope in a literal garbage dump of a world. By the finale, all the grimness got tiring and I was yearning for another emotion to take over.
If there's no ray of hope for these characters, what's at stake then? The atmosphere is trying to choke them all to death.
What kept the film together was Yase Liu's performance, who steals the show as the film's unofficial protagonist. It is a well-written redemption arc that Liu plays with earnest and commitment, performing her own stunts in a lot of the film's chase scenes. Yase Liu becomes the ray of hope the film needs, despite all the surrounding nihilism trying hard to extinguish it.
Limbo is a heavy somber film and I could see it being hit-or-miss depending on whether your proverbial glass is half-empty or half-full. In the end, it was entertaining but I don't fully buy Soi Cheang thinks the world is utterly hopeless as he vehemently portrays.
For this reason, SPL 2 is still my favorite Soi Cheang film as it's where he kept both the grittiness and heart in better balance.
0 out of 0 found this helpful.
Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.