The Game Changer [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Well Go USA
Review written by and copyright: Robert Segedy (7th October 2017).
The Film

I must admit that I am a fan of the old Warner Brothers Studios gangster films from the 1930’s like "The Public Enemy" (1931), "Angeles with Dirty Faces" (1938), and "The Roaring Twenties" (1939). Gangsters that talk tough and back up their words with a hail of bullets from a smoking Tommy gun, car chases with guys leaning out the windows with pistols blazing at the cops, sultry lounge singers that slink around looking posh; yeah, the whole nine yards of gangster film clichés, but at the heart of those films is a certain intensity and a skewed integrity. Crime pays but only for a little while and that is while you are on top of the heap, until your best friend gives you the double-cross and steals your girl, putting a bullet in your chest for your trouble. Then some other guy is the big flavor of the month until the latest hit takes him out of action as well. No one ever happily retires from a life of crime and the only proper way to go out is in a blaze of glory, lock, stock and two smoking barrels. “Top of the world, ma. Top of the world” while all around you the world is a burning hell of tortured greed and short term destiny. That is why I was impressed by Xixi Gao’s version of the same genre, but set in 1930’s Shanghai, during the student revolutions. All the elements of old school Hollywood filmmaking are present, but Xixi puts his own imprint on the material making it his own.

The film begins with a crowded student demonstration against the local Japanese government, led by Li Zihao (Peter Ho), a member of a secret underground association called The Blue Shirts; the students don’t mind actually assassinating government members and they make no bones about spilling some blood. The Chinese government has no plans to play fair though, and so they have involved the local mob boss, Tang Hexuan (Wang Xueqi) to help bring an end to the protests with equal violence. These are dangerous times for sure and many people end up killed in the streets on both sides of the war. Li Zihao’s girlfriend Lan Ruoyun (Ja-Hyun Choo) is captured and led away to be executed and Zhao is imprisoned and tortured in the hope that he will name the others involved in The Blue Shirts; but Zihao is a tough customer and he has vowed not to break under pressure. While tied and suspended from two poles in the prison yard, in the pouring rain, his only thoughts are of his girlfriend; is she dead or alive, did she suffer a horrible fate, did she talk too? All he is sure of is that he needs to escape from this hellhole and at any cost.

Then comes his chance at freedom; he takes out three guards using the chains that have bound his hands and we see that Zihao is skilled in the fighting arts as he mops up the place with the other guards that come to assist the others. While fleeing through the prison, he accidentally encounters Fang Jie (Huang Zitao), who, of course, is none other than the adopted son of Tang Hexuan, and additionally the fiancé of the mob boss’ daughter Qianqian (Coulee Nazha); yes, fate plays such a heavy hand in this film, but that is the way it goes. After a long and action filled escape, the two soon embark on a strained partnership. Young Fang is a dandy that loves the high life and the thrill of busting a cap in the opposition’s ass; in the opposite direction is Zihao, more of the strong silent type, but just as deadly as Fang. The two soon are reporting to Pop, Mr. Tang, a George Raft type in expensive pinstriped suits, and Tang is grateful that Zihao saved his daughter from an attempted kidnapping by his nemesis, He (Jack Kao), but Zihao recognizes Tang as the man responsible for the brutal murders of his comrades in The Blue Shirts and that will prove to be problematic. There is also the slight problem that Lan Ruoyun is still alive and she is Tang’s concubine, plus Tang’s daughter, Qianqian, is also crazy in love with the heroic Zihao. Man, how is Xixi going to straighten out this Gordian knot of relationships?

Unfortunately "The Game Changer" doesn’t really live up to its name; the rules of power are still the same, mobsters are still in control and politics are still corrupt. There are plenty of melodramatic angles to be played out though: two love triangles, a broken friendship, an unusually cold father figure, and twists of fate and daring do are displayed throughout the film, all in glorious saturated color with a powerful score to back up the over the top action. Saba Mazloum’s cinematography is pretty decent, but hardly remarkable, and there is nothing here that is going to break the genre’s mold. It seems that the spirit of John Woo’s earlier films lives on in "The Game Changer", including the old shooting-two-guns-whilst-falling-backwards stunt, but there is more than enough eye candy for fans of Asian action cinema. I was just left wanting to see something completely awesome, a scene that would leave a truly lasting impression on me, and instead I felt a tad weathered and beaten down; perhaps I have just reviewed too many of these shoot ‘em up scenarios that I am becoming jaded. Nonetheless this film appears to be a bright spot in the year’s overview.

I will not reveal the film’s nihilistic conclusion, but the old saying about “Payback being a b*tch” is indeed true. I must give props to Wang Xueqi for his shark eyed portrayal of the mob boss; this man literally has ice water in his veins as he never appears overly excited or villainous, and he looks at the world through weary eyes that have seen a thousand deaths, and none of them have affected him. Business is truly a business for this man. The costume design also deserves a mention as well as the suits that the main characters wear are natty and right smart, especially when you see a small army of leather duster clad men armed with axes waiting for you.

This film was originally based on an adaptation of "Shanghai Bund" (2007), a TV series that has been favorably compared to "The Godfather" (1972) or "The Sopranos" (1999-2007). I also loved the fact that not once, but two times, do we see people who are obviously medically untrained operating on gunshot victims without fatalities. It’s just like in the Westerns when they just take a knife and run it through a candle flame and use liquor for sanitizing the wound; “there you go, in a few days, you’ll be up and walking around.” Yes, sometimes we must put aside all disbelief and just surrender to the film’s vision no matter how antic they may be.

Video

Presented in the film's original ratio of 2.35:1 widescreen mastered in 1080p HD 24/fps using AVC MPEG-4 compression. There's some poorly executed green screen work shows early on in the films big chase scene, and the excessive use of slow motion is a tad heavy handed, likewise is the use of slightly speeding up the action in some fight scenes. The cinematography is handled rather well otherwise, and there is plenty of hand to hand combat scenes that are rather admirable as well.

Audio

Two audio options included in Mandarin DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround and Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. The audio is fairly consistent throughout with the actor’s dialogue scenes looking fairly right on the mark. The soundtrack is lively and jazzy throughout the nightclub scenes and the instrumental pieces sound just right. Plenty of rear channel action for the gunfight scenes, bullets spraying from the submachine guns feel like they are right there in your living room. Optional subtitles are included in Chinese and English.

Extras

Well Go USA has sadly included no substantial extras included with the film, there's an original theatrical trailer (2:04) plus a collection of bonus trailers for:

- "The Adventurers" (1:34)
- "Wolf Warrior 2" (1:53)
- "The Final Master" (1:37)

Packaging

Packaged in a standard Blu-ray keep case.

Overall

“A gangster film on steroids” like the box reads. "The Game Changer" is an exciting find in the Asian action market; recommended.

The Film: A Video: B+ Audio: A Extras: D- Overall: C-

 


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