A few fun moments don’t exactly save an otherwise forgettable ‘action’-thriller.
“There are three stages to gambling. The first thing that’s important is not to be afraid of losing.”
China and South Korea have something of a complicated relationship when it comes to sharing and collaborating in each other’s cultures, namely cinema. Efforts have had mixed results, from the ambitious flop of 2001’s Musa, all the way to China’s 2016 ban on South Korean entertainment, which has been lifting as of late. That same year saw the release of Tik Tok, and … well, it might be harsh to say that the ban was direct response to this film, but it probably didn’t help.
In Korea, a Chinese terrorist named Guo Zhida (Wallace Chung, in dual roles as twin brothers), is brought in for questioning by captain Jiang Chenjun (Lee Jung-jae), about the kidnapping of a pro-footballer’s wife. Zhida is using her as a hostage to “encourage” a footballer to score during the game as he has money riding on it. Jiang, along with psychiatrist Yang Xi (Lang Yueting), soon learn of a number of other bombs planted around the stadium, and must work with Zhida to track them down before it’s too late.
These kinds of movies always irk me, because there’s very little to actually write about. Tik Tok isn’t a movie with a message to get across, and Tik Tok isn’t a movie that’s happy being shallow, and chooses to thrills us with tense character interactions and action sequences. Tik Tok is none of those, and instead is a movie with more promise than payoff. It’s a film with ideas, but not a tonne of structure, feeling like a collection of cool scenes that needed to be strung together in some form or another, regardless of how little sense it made. So we have a few sort-of coherent plotlines, most of which aren’t exactly necessary.
It’s an understatement to say it could have done with a tighter script and wouldn’t have lost anything if it’d just stuck to the story of the three main characters. The addition of the loan sharks and the gambling house are fine and necessary for the specific story they’re trying to tell, and there’s a sense of what they’re trying to get across, but it’s kind of pointless and never really does anything to enrich the plot. I understand that these extra elements – especially the twins angle – can help augment a film, but here it feels more like a collection of ideas worked into a first draft that should really have been refined before they got to principle photography.
Guo Zhida wears a very creepy face mask, which doesn’t do much in terms of story but certainly gives the film more of an identity than if we were just watching Wallace Chung twice. Not to belittle his efforts, but it’s these tiny flourishes that made the film memorable. Zhida’s half-broken mask and burnt face beneath is far more interesting than whatever the character is actually saying. This is true for a lot of the film, and I found myself appreciating little details far more than anything the plot or the characters were trying to do. There’s a pretty great fight scene between Jiang and a million goons (if we ignore the blatant Oldboy and Winter Soldier inspiration). The music is good, and the editing helps pace the film in a way that gives the impression of tension; it’s flashy but the core isn’t there to keep everything upright.
Tik Tok could have done with embracing its Korean nature and throwing in a shade of satire, commentary or comedy in the mix. Instead it suffers from an affliction many recent Chinese thrillers have: being extremely serious. This wouldn’t be so bad if the story and the execution weren’t so inherently goofy and refused to ever end (seriously, there are good ideas but they get tacked on at the end to the point of exasperation). Somewhere within this chaos is a good film; it has enough ideas and what appears to be a pretty competent case, but Tik Tok isn’t it. Korean and Chinese crime thrillers are a dime a dozen, so unless you’re running out of things to binge on Netflix you’re better off watching The Chaser or even Shock Wave.
Verdict: Perfectly imitating the sound of the clock you’ll be watching, Tik Tok tries hard but can’t escape just how boring it actually is.
Overall entertainment : 5/10
Korean men: Drink after work and beat their wives, apparently
Football: More exciting than the action
What this isn’t: A post-Vine social media app
Plastic surgery clinics: Pretty on-the-nose name, there
Tik Tok (2016)
Director: Li Jun
Writer: Ding Xiaoyang
Wallace Chung – Guo Zhihua / Guo Zhida
Lee Jung-jae – Jiang Chengjun
Lang Yueting – Yang Xi
Chae-yeong Lee – An Caixi
Fan Yang – Li Zhiyu