Review of Tsui Hark's MISSING
I hate to make such a statement, but until I see something better from him, I think Tsui Hark has lost his Midas Touch. He had given us wonderful movies, some of which are my personal favourites like the Once Upon A TIme in China series starring Jet Li, and The Blade, but in his attempt to register a more prolific comeback after his less than stellar stab at Hollywood, his recent filmography had blown hot and cold, with more misses save for his collaboration in Triangle. Missing unfortunately falls into the Stinker category.
No doubt there's a ton of potential as to how the story could develop, given the teases in the trailer, but what was delivered happened to be a convoluted plot which made very little sense and became extremely indecisive, like an octopus putting its tentacles into every conceivable nook and cranny genre ranging from supernatural romance to psychological thriller, that if it had stuck to one primary idea, it might have been fairly enjoyable.
Unfortunately, it seemed like Hark wanted to ape after the contemporary Asian horror masters in the Pang Brothers from technique in storytelling, right down to casting one of their regular lead actress Angelica Lee as the role of Dr Gao Jin, a psychologist who hits it off with underwater photographer Dave Chen (Guo Xiao Dong), the brother of her patient Xiao Kai (Isabella Leong). A whirlwind romance ensues and in Dave's bid to propose to his beau underwater near the ruins off Japan's Yonaguni Island (which you don't get to see at all), tragedy strikes, but we don't get to see what actually happened, providing the avenue for mysterious flashbacks and investigations into what was.
But there's when most of the 2 hour runtime seem to find itself stuck in, coming up with so many subplots they get dumped unceremoniously when they no longer fit the whim of the moment. You get some outright statements on ecology and the saving of our oceans, then you get some spooky scenes with mysterious figures and spirits trying to garner some cheap scares. Granted these are the moments which were suspense filled and the audience let on to expect further exploration at a later time, only to be disappointed by its lack of focus no thanks to wanting to experiment with some fiery special effects. Just when you think you got the hang of things, Missing throws you totally off tangent with yet another major revelation almost two-thirds of the way, in what I would deem as a cheap cop-out, where further explanation would spoil it for you.
Suffice to say that if you like the Pang Brothers' Diary, then you might buy into Missing. Otherwise, you'll begin to roll your eyes and clock watch, as the story begins to suffer from its now unbelievable and much scattered design, and relied too much on coincidence to move everything forward toward a finale that just seem to not know when to end. And that was its ultimate flaw. It had plenty of moments when to pull the plug to mitigate the suffering of an audience, but no, it dragged on, and on, with each moment building on the ridiculousness of the previous minutes.
In all honesty, I understood Tsui Hark's intentions in attempting to bring out a more emotional film about love and loss, especially toward the end when it realized it had burnt the bridges to salvage something horrific. In its lazy presentation in not knowing what to edit and leave out of the story, Missing felt just like one of the props in the movie, a headless body without any clear direction where to go towards. I thought it had hit the nail on the head during one of the many endings, but realized this last ditch attempt was wasted when it still refused to roll the end credits.
And no matter how much pedigree Angelica Lee has brought from her reigning Scream-Queen experience, somehow it was just that which turns out to be the albatross around her neck, as she offers nothing new from her range of expressions in movies like The Eye, and Re-cycle, other than look visibly aged. Isabella Leong doesn't fare any better too with her character as she turns vampish in her role when she returns to the incident site to seek out her brother, and Tony Leung Kar Fai and Chang Chen had only supporting roles to bookend the movie. The latter's role was surprisingly the better one as a soft-spoken man with a penchant for predicting the supernatural, but alas is one character that is forgotten soon enough.
Final verdict? Watch Missing at your own peril. It does boast some very few moments of genuine horror, and nicely done special effects, before surrendering everything to slip-shoddy storytelling. The more subplots it dwelled upon, the more loopholes managed to creep into it, making the title a premonition of what the movie is actually all about - missing everything needed to make this a decent movie.