Whoever coined the phrase “third time’s a charm” obviously never saw the new film, ENDGAME, by mainland Chinese writer-director Rao Xiaozhi/饒曉志 (A COOL FISH/无名之辈). Based on the 2012 Japanese film, KEY OF LIFE, which was remade into the 2016 South Korean film, LUCK KEY, ENDGAME is a joyless third kick at the can that gets muddled with subplots that make no sense and opportunities for humour that go nowhere.
In ENDGAME, Chen Xiaomeng (Xiao Yang/肖央, SHEEP WITHOUT A SHEPHERD) is a loser in Shanghai who has failed at his acting career and his life. He can’t even commit suicide without screwing up. One night he decides to visit a local bathhouse using a free coupon that is about to expire. While in the shower, his bar of soap pops out his hands and onto the floor, causing suave, professional assassin Zhou Quan (Andy Lau/劉德華, FIND YOUR VOICE) to slip and conk his head on the stone floor. With Zhou out cold, Chen decides to switch identities with the stranger, only to soon discover what Zhou does for a living. Zhou, meanwhile, wakes up with amnesia and is told he is Chen. Returning to Chen’s squalid home, he begins to piece his life together with the help of single mother and Internet businesswoman Li Xiang (Regina Wan Qian/萬茜, TV’s SECRET OF THE THREE KINGDOMS), who takes a shining to him. Zhou’s memories eventually return to him leading to a confrontation with Chen but switching their identities back proves to be a bit complicated when Chen gets himself involved in a paid hit.
Wow, I made that sound fairly interesting. Unfortunately, ENDGAME isn’t interesting at all, especially when the story introduces characters and situations that leave the audience wondering for far too long why they’re there in the first place. In one of those situations, Chen takes on a contract to kill a young woman. After following her around for two days, he falls for her – and she for him – but it’s not until well into the film’s second act that we find out why she’s the target and, when we do, the matter of their budding relationship is quickly jettisoned. Also tossed aside is the matter of Zhou’s age. After he leaves the hospital, Li asks Zhou how old he is. Zhou looks at his hospital record and sees that he’s 32. Andy Lau, who also serves as one of the film’s producers, is about to turn 60 and no amount of Botox and collagen is going to make anyone believe that he’s half that age. Granted, the writers were probably poking fun at Lau’s own Peter Pan image (and bravo to Lau for being a good sport about it) but then they should have really leaned into that joke. Instead, they let it go too, never to be revisited again. Rao even passes up another opportunity for humour involving the men’s clothing. The two actors have completely different body types – Lau is bony and probably weights 150 lbs on a heavy day while Xiao is pudgy and slightly shorter – yet they can fit into each other’s clothes and shoes. It seems that, unlike Cinderella’s glass slipper, one size fits all here. Rao finally adds to the audience’s pain with a half-baked, drawn-out climax involving such lethal weapons as soup ladles.
ENDGAME was released in China over the Lunar New Year followed by a rollout to other markets that have large overseas Chinese populations. It has done surprisingly well, taking in over US$112 million so far, although 99 percent of that has come from the domestic box office. Don’t let the numbers fool you though. ENDGAME is pretty lame entertainment.
The film opens in our cinemas in Hong Kong on Thursday. Unless you’re a die-hard Andy Lau fan, you can safely give this ENDGAME a miss.
Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, March 19th, 8:30 am HK time!
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