Divergence (2006)

The phrase “smart action film” is thrown around too loosely, these days. Does the idea of having more talk than explosions really get people’s Harvard instincts pumping? Or is it the seemingly in-depth characters that make people tilt their heads sagely?

At first, the complexity of Divergence is quite shocking. Every character has their own inner demons and separate obstacles. The plot jerks a bit as some characters reveal ulterior motives or express inner desires that eventually affect the muck they’re all in. You see, Divergence is all about choices: wrong turns, destructive paths, bad decisions. It’s obvious from the beginning where some characters will end up and sometimes their irrational choices are inevitable. But usually in films like this, the evolution it takes for the characters to get there is what makes the film, not just the ending, which is one of Divergence‘s biggest flaws.

Suen (Aaron Kwok) is a down-on-his-luck cop whose life hasn’t been the same since his girlfriend went missing 10 years ago. He has arguments with his boss daily, his acquaintances and co-workers think he’s unstable, and he spends all his free time hanging at the morgue looking for his girlfriend. Emotionally, Suen isn’t hanging on by much. When he’s on an important job of transporting a witness of a money laundering outfit from Canada to Hong Kong, the witness is picked off by a sniper. The killer, Coke (Daniel Wu), is a handsome, charismatic assassin who builds an attachment to the cop and later tries to help him.

Meanwhile, things aren’t looking good for Yiu (Gallen Law), a corrupt business man whose money laundering operation is frozen by police due to the witness’s death. There’s also To (Ekin Cheng), Yiu’s lawyer, who makes a living being morally corrupt. Things spin further out of control when Yiu’s pop star son winds up missing. When Suen is assigned to the case, he realizes that To’s wife looks mysteriously like his missing girlfriend.

There’s a lot going on in Divergence; in fact, there’s too much. There are lots of sub-plots, side stories, flashbacks; it’s all quite confusing. For example, the characters Fong and Amy are played by the same actress to keep viewers guessing about exactly who she is. Also, many of the sub-plots are purposely ambiguous to keep an element of surprise for the end. After watching the movie twice (to ‘get’ it), I realized that director Benny Chan doesn’t know how to make Divergence smart or complex. He doesn’t know how to balance the many complicated elements and the movie quickly spirals into a form of imitation.

There’s a difference between talk and good talk; dimensional characters and trite dimensional characters. Being the opposite of a genre is easy, while imitation is hard. Chan wants you to believe that the movie is profound and “intelligent”, but unless nonsense and confusion for the sake of confusion constitutes intelligence these days, Divergence is nowhere near it.

The key element Divergence is missing is a satisfactory resolution. The massive, tangled web disguised as the plot wouldn’t be a problem if the ending was fulfilling. Even though the ending answers all our questions, the work it took for us to get there doesn’t seem worth it. The so-called “explosive climax” is just a bunch of characters overacting and shooting guns at each other. Not to give anything away, but in one scene, when an unidentified character in a black, hooded jacket takes off his hood for the big, shocking, revelatory moment, he tilts his head back and cackles. Cackles! I sat through two hours for this?

Another major problem, specifically with this Region 1 DVD release, is the subtitles. Whoever was in charge of cueing the subs must’ve been sleeping on the job. The subs are off by two to three seconds. This makes watching the movie incredibly difficult for obvious reasons. When a character speaks, the subtitle that is on the screen is actually what the character before him was saying. By the end of the movie, the subs are so off that sometimes an entire short scene could go by without any translation. For an official Region 1 DVD, this is abysmal.

Also, the marketing of this release as a “two disc special edition extravaganza!” is misleading. Sure, there’s a second disc of special features, but it’s just a few trailers and a five minute “making of” featurette. All of it could have fit on the first disc, but I guess that’s less exciting.

What is with Hong Kong films lately? These cop/crook films shipped to the West and disguised as the next Infernal Affairs are laughable. I hate to say it, but Divergence would have worked much better as a popcorn action flick; lots of cars flying through buildings, explosions, and flashy choreographed fights. Not to insult director Benny Chan’s repertoire, but if you can’t get the “smart” down, you might as well stick to what you know.

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A note from the distributor: “We recently learned of a synchronization issue with the subtitle track on Disc 1 of THE DIVERGENCE SPECIAL TWO DISC SET. We are concerned that some people may have unknowingly purchased this disc before it was removed from stores and replaced. Tartan takes extreme pride in the quality of our product and we are asking anyone who may have purchased a compromised disc to visit our website, www.tartanvideousa.com for information on how to obtain a replacement disc for free. We value our audience tremendously and look forward to the opportunity to correct this matter. As always, thank you for your continuing support.”

RATING 4 / 10