Movie Review: The Whistleblower (吹哨人)

Whistleblowers seem to be everywhere these days, from the still unidentified person whose actions have led to Donald Trump’s near-certain impeachment this week to a few we’ve seen, or will soon be seeing, at the cinema. Opening this week, we have a Chinese take on the subject in the unimaginatively titled film, THE WHISTLEBLOWER. If you’re wondering if China has a proud tradition of supporting whistleblowers, it doesn’t as more than a few of them have ended up in prison or worse. But, as the film explains in an endtitle, just last September, China strengthened its whistleblower laws by offering significant cash incentives to people who come forward and report corporate hankypanky.

In THE WHISTLEBLOWER, Mark Ma (Lei Jiayin/雷佳音, THE WANDERING EARTH) is a mid-level executive with Australian energy company, GPEC, that is about to sign a big deal with a Chinese coal mining company that is located in the smog-filled, gritty, fictional city of Luhan (or, as the English subtitles spell it, Lvhan, because that’s how it’s spelled in pinyin). At a colourful event hosted by Mark’s boss, Harrison (John Batchelor), at a swanky resort at Australia’s Twelve Apostles, Mark runs into his old flame, Zhou Siliang (Tang Wei/湯唯, FINDING MR. RIGHT; LUST, CAUTION), who informs him that she is the wife of the chairman of said coal mining company, not that it matters to either of them later that evening. Their reunion and the event is marred, though, when Mark’s colleague and one-time rival, Peter Wu, shows up unexpectedly from Malawi where he is overseeing the company’s relief efforts after a major earthquake devastated the area where GPEC is operating. Peter is clearly agitated about something and Harrison quickly sends him to his room to get some sleep. The next day, though, when Mark returns home to his wife and son in Melbourne, he learns that Peter had died overnight from an apparent insulin overdose and Siliang, who was on her way back to Sydney that morning, is presumed dead after the plane she was travelling in went down in high winds. A few days later, Mark gets a surprise phone call from Siliang who tells him that she’s been in hiding ever since she missed that flight. It seems that she’s been trying to get out of her unhappy marriage and this was the perfect opportunity to do it. But her freedom doesn’t last long as people know she’s alive and are trying to kill her. Mark decides to help her escape, jeopardising his career, his marriage, his family and even his life. Along the way, he discovers that his company may have been responsible for that earthquake and may be setting up Siliang’s husband’s company for disaster as well.

Oh my, where to begin? While this Chinese-Australian co-production is shot well (some cheesy CGI effects notwithstanding) and has some fairly good performances with a big shout out to the actor who plays Harrison’s boss (Carrillo Gantner) for his excellent Chinese pronunciation that would put former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd’s Chinese ability to shame, this story is completely bonkers with more holes in it than a golf course. Once the bullets start flying, Mark, who starts out as a wet noodle, suddenly transforms into a Chinese Ethan Hunt as he cantilevers between buildings, out-drives not one but two other cars filled with gunmen who couldn’t hit the side of a barn if they tried, slides down ventilation ducts and more, without as much as getting a scratch on his pudgy body. One expects to hear Lalo Schifrin’s iconic theme song playing while Mark outwits all the bad guys. Siliang, meanwhile, is just as adept as Mark, though she is still relegated by writer-director Xue Xiaolu/薛曉路 (FINDING MR. RIGHT) to scream, whine and pout at every opportunity. But just when you think the story can’t get any more ridiculous, it goes where it absolutely shouldn’t for a film made in 2019. I had to reach down in the dark to pick my lower jaw up off the floor.

As messed up as the story is, THE WHISTLEBLOWER is not a horrible film. I’ve seen far worse this year. It’s hard to imagine, though, that this film will encourage Chinese citizens to step up and report any wrongdoing.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, December 13th, 8:30 am HK time!

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