Eyes usually roll when you see a film state the line “Based on true events”, but for Saving Mr. Wu, screening at this year’s New York Asian Film Festival, it rings true. 12 years prior to the film, actor Ruofu Wu was abducted by a gang in the early hours of the morning and held for ransom. Fortunately, just less than 24 hours later he was rescued by the police department in a story that could have taken a much darker turn.
Ding Sheng brings this true event to the big screen, as Andy Lau takes on the titled character. Ruofu Wu was initially offered the role but felt it was a bit too close to home, instead paying homage to his rescuers by playing one of the leading detectives in the case.
The film starts right away with Mr. Wu being abducted by a gang posing as police officers. They act suspiciously from the get-go, using excessive force to get Mr. Wu into their car. He immediately realises that something is amiss, that they’re not real officers, and with his fate now in their hands, the clock starts ticking. The film then moves into a non-linear plot that continuously cross-cuts between the interrogation of the gang’s leader, Zang Hau (Qianyuan Wang), Mr. Wu’s time as a hostage and his ultimate rescue.
While Saving Mr. Wu isn’t as hard-hitting as it potentially could have been, it builds to a climax well. There’s a real intensity in the film, whether it’s the amount of times the hostages are physically assaulted – Andy Lau himself told his co-stars to really strangle him, who were fearful of doing so for obvious reasons, or from the clear anguish you can see on Ruofu Wu’s face during his screen time as he relives the story. Though he didn’t talk about the experience on set, Lau has said that if he was ever to do something in character he would look towards Wu. If the actor seemed deep in thought, or like his mind was elsewhere, he knew he was doing something right.
The film is really driven by solid chemistry between Andy Lau and Qianyuan Wang. The dynamic between Mr. Wu as he keeps all thoughts on survival, trying to think of ways to escape, while using his skills to keep up the pretences of hope and optimism play nicely against Zang’s unapologetic, unpredictable nature. As the film’s villain, Zang is intelligent, calculated and deep down a complete lunatic. Just like Mr. Wu, he is ever-thinking of an escape route from police custody, making them play his game and frustrating them at every opportunity. He has a plan, but we as an audience don’t know what is it and it keeps us hooked. The rest of the characters however, fall a little flat. There’s a half-hearted attempt to give one of the leading investigators some vague family troubles which makes it clear we’re meant to care about him being in the line of fire. He wants to solve the case so that he can get home but that’s not really explained so we don’t end up caring enough about him for it to matter. The hook that the film hangs its hat on is certainly the Mr.Wu/Zang dynamic, which while compelling, isn’t strong enough to carry this film all the way over the line.
With the film lacking in a lot of real action, imagination comes into the mix. At one point Mr. Wu manages to grab one of the kidnapper’s weapons and beings unloading on his captors, only to get shot in the process. This, as it turns out, is revealed just to be just one of many unnecessary fake sequences that plague the film. It gives the cinematographer something to play with, but it doesn’t really offer much for the audience and after the third or fourth time just becomes frustrating.
Saving Mr. Wu is a good, solid story but it should have played to its strengths a bit more, rather than offering something that wasn’t really needed. Adding more depth into the police side of the story would have been welcomed but overall it’s a captivating story with two very strong leads.
Saving Mr. Wu will be screening on Saturday, July 9th 4PM at the SVA Theatre.