Review: BEYOND REDEMPTION (2017) Offers Room For Critique With An Opportune Vision

Former stuntman and Hong Kong cinema vet Bruce Fonataine is finally stepping into the arena with a film that I've been dying to catch. The talent on hand is incredible in the new film, Beyond Redemption which, on its face, promises riveting action and drama that delivers a compelling underdog story about a cop fighting for his future from behind enemy lines. This, it does, and as for its incredibility, I talk specifically with regard to the action.

The drama, for all intents and purposes, is another story and to which its lead actor, Hollywood stuntman Brian Ho, stakes his claim in a debut role. It's an honorable effort for someone as talented as Ho is and as often as I personally advocate for more stuntmen with a martial arts and screenfighting background to take the mantle in starring roles for the sake of genuine action cinema. It also presents an opportunity to take a look at some things worth correcting for posterity when it comes to the craft, especially in an age where action stars like Scott Adkins can inch their way closer to the glass ceiling of mainstream film.

Beyond Redemption, first and foremost, is an independent production which filmed largely during the better part of 2014 in Vancouver before finishing the following year. The methodology behind its completion is not without its share of Hail Maries and such, and for what it's worth, it works, stitching together a complete film with all the trimmings. We meet Ho in the role of Billy, a weary undercover cop about to take the next step in enemy territory working for Chin Tau gang leader boss Yuen, played by Don Lew. The move, as per the Asian Crimes Special Task Force led by Captain McKay - played by actor Darren E. Scott, is part of a larger attempt at a bigger catch within the Triad criminal underworld, and it is one that has Billy reluctant, albeit cornered with his job on the line, and the anonymity of his pregnant ex-wife, Melinda - played by Josette Jorge, at stake.

Tony Towe plays Xi Long, a Triad dragonhead boss who uses his computer company as a front for his dealings, and gets to share tables among the Triad upper class, including Uncle Bao, played by seasoned Hong Kong film and TV actor Eddy Ko. Linna Huynh plays Xi's daughter, Tiffany, whose life is kept explicitly seperate from this aspect of her father, and is otherwise also, in the wake of her mother's death, faced with the prospects of his newfound relationship with Lucinda - played by Vicky Huang. Tiffany's animosity toward Lucinda is no secret to her father who, for better (or much worse) may be way in over his head with his latest deal involving a certain "product" and some shady people. Thus, with money as an obvious factor, the Chin Tau Gang has been assigned to descend on Xi's home, kidnap Tiffany and hold her hostage with a two-million dollar price on her head. As such, with time of the essence, loyalities uncertain on both sides and chaos looming, it is up to Billy to keep Tiffany safe during captivity and maintain his cover long enough for McKay to advance his sting.

On its face, the plot carries a very exciting tone and feel, coupled with an almost entirely Asian cast and a script that pays humbly in fan service as a nod to fans of Hong Kong action. The only setbacks, however, lie in overall pacing, in addition to drama and a few other exploratory measures taken here. The acting ranges from average and outright stilted to almost borderline laughable, save for some decent moments with Ko and actor Patrick Sabongui who co-stars as Amir, another one of Xi's seedy cohorts. Actor Johnson Phan who plays loyal Chin Tau member, Jimmy, is exemplary in this aspect; He works adequately with what he has, though he sticks out like a sore thumb even more so by the end, and similarly with the film's tendency to lag in mind, you can't completely blame him for trying to keep the enthusiasm going.

Ho's own stoicism almost equals that of his character for the most of the movie. On the better end, his efforts here lend us a protagonist for the screen worth sympathizing and his potency as an action star reveals itself naturally. It's in those moments he's in his element compared to when things slow down for poignancy and thats when saturation surfaces. This isn't to say he doesn't try - he clearly does and as do most of the cast, but that doesn't change course much for the flattening domino effect already in play.

Aside from many of these flaws, the story overall still managed to sustain my interest. I enjoyed the Tiffany/Lucinda rivalry a bit as that subplot unfolded, and credit there goes to the writers and their ability to craft a workable story with just enough excitement and intrigue in its wake, even if you do feel like turning the film off at times and going for a brisk walk instead. Don Lew turns in an equally median performance as well in the role of Yuan whose pull is much bigger than he shows in the film, and with three fight sequences in the third act, Lew not only brings formidability as the film's villain, but contributes refreshingly to a final fight with Ho that sets Beyond Redemption just short of irredeemable.

Beyond Redemption

To Fontaine's credit, it's also worth noting the prominence here of a largely Asian cast in an age where Asian performers have grown more vociferous in responding to Hollywood and its treatment of minorities. With major studios often rife with minor or miscast roles, Beyond Redemption also signals a sizable mention in the dialogue pertaining to the call of fairness and diversity in mainstream cinema. The messaging here, as involuntary it is at best, is clear: The cookie cutter routine is outdated and it's high time for Asians aspiring for the performing arts to be given the fair treatment and opportunities as with other demographics. This ultimately means roles that will offer channels for them to grow as actors and even to starring capacity, as opposed to small roles or roles meant for Asians but diluted for actors not characteristic of said roles. Now all that matters is whether or not someone upstairs will listen.

For this, granted, Ho isn't the most solid actor right now as fresh and new as he is in this field of film apart from his years of stunt training and Wushu under Fontaine's tutelage. Then again, neither is Adkins while that hasn't hindered him from his own growth. On that end, I will instantly seek Ho out as he looks toward future endeavors in film as an actor. Beyond Redemption, while imperfect, heralds the presence and relevance of martial artists and stuntmen like him who, politics be damned, are ready for the next level.


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