ActionFest '11: The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch Review
[With an upcoming sequel, and its North American Premiere at ActionFest, it's high time we revisit James Marsh's review.]
Who would have thought there was a Belgian comic book hero out there to rival Tintin? I will come clean on this one right away and admit that I had never heard of Largo Winch before watching this film. However, a quick trip to Wikipedia exposes him as having a legacy spanning several decades, including numerous chronicled adventures, in both novel and comic book form, as well as a previous film incarnation and even a TV series to his name.
Largo Winch is the secret, adopted son of business mogul Nerio Winch (Miki Manojlovic), who heads his empire out of the impressive W Group tower in Hong Kong. Largo's existence is only discovered after Nerio is dragged from his boat and drowned in Victoria Harbour. It appears that Largo is sole heir to his father's 65% share of the conglomerate and has been groomed his whole life as an insurance policy for exactly this eventuality. Largo is tracked down in a Brazilian jail by Nerio's facial scar-sporting manservant, Freddy (Gilbert Melki) and must escape all number of attempts on his life if he is to make it to Hong Kong in time to prevent a hostile takeover, diffuse an internal power struggle and discover the truth behind his father's untimely death.
For a fairly modest European production, it is impressive how slick and competent LARGO WINCH is. The director Jerome Salle proves remarkably adept at directing action, staging numerous scuffles and fistfights with aplomb as well as a variety of elaborate stunts and set pieces. He was no doubt helped by the fact that stand-up comic turned leading man Tomer Sisley performed all of his own stunts, enabling Salle to get in close with his camera and film in slow motion when, for example, Largo leaps off a cliff to avoid a helicopter-borne sniper.
As well as some well-photographed locations and pacey editing, LARGO WINCH also features some excellent CGI work, not least in the creation of The W Group's headquarters on the Hong Kong waterfront. It blends in so seamlessly with the existing buildings that it had me scratching my head for a few minutes trying to identify which skyscraper they were using.
It is always exciting to see Hong Kong featured in Western movies and here about half of the film takes place in the city. Filmed mainly in and around Central and Mong Kok, Salle and his crew make great use of the city's vibrancy and diversity, accurately capturing the spirit of Hong Kong from the expatriate perspective, without resorting to travelogue tactics, or it seems, getting much help from the local industry. Although a couple of HK character actors do crop up in minor roles I couldn't see much in the way of Chinese financing or production assistance when scanning the credits.
LARGO WINCH is not perfect by any means. The story isn't anything particularly original and the third act revelations are obvious almost from the get-go. The stunt casting of Kristen Scott Thomas, who here continues her recent spell in French Cinema, should serve as a fairly obvious clue of what is to come. There is some clunky dialogue along the way as well as some occasionally stiff acting, but Sisley is a handsome and charismatic hero and the overall high production values help make LARGO WINCH a pleasant surprise and an entertaining action/boardroom romp.