Dante Lam’s 2014 That Demon Within made its way to the 2016 Glasgow Film Festival. A gripping crime thriller that pulls no punches in its violent shoot outs and duplicitous protagonist.
Hon Kong (Nick Cheung) is a ruthless gangster who finds himself close to death after a vicious battle with the police. Struggling to find a match for his blood type, reclusive cop Dave Wong (Daniel Wu) becomes a donor, unware that he has just saved the life of a sadistic killer. When Dave and Hon lock eyes, a repressed memory is triggered within Dave that unleashes a vicious side to his personality. Struggling with his own sanity and dark urges, Dave embarks on a redemptive path, looking to kill Hon and finish off his gang once and for all.
There are two films at play here. One is a straight up crime thriller, an unpretentious story about cops and robbers with the unmistakable feel of Asian cinema. The other is a psychological drama with stunning visuals but a convoluted plot. The two themes mesh well for the most part however as we enter the third act, the film gets messy and attempts at a resolution add to the confusion.
The performances by the leads are brilliant with Wu flawlessly switching from mild mannered policeman to psychotic avenger. There is not dubiety over Hon with Cheung portraying the criminal with a demonic glee. His unearthly grin assists much to the subtest that Lam introduces and although he’s a villain, you’re more on his side than his colleagues in crime. He does feel underused and I felt that the film could have benefited from additional encounters between Hon and Dave.
Lam does his best to wrap things up neatly, and is generally successful in terms of his narrative. The film leaves much to ponder once the credits roll, unfortunately it asks too many questions of the audience during its runtime which is distracting and caused me to feel I’d missed plot points. It doesn’t match the sensational thrills of The Killer or Infernal Affairs, but the action set-pieces are exciting making this worthy of your time.