IT’S 1949. Japan is defeated and China is on the brink of civil war. Although the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has gained many rural areas, the Kuomintang (KMT) still holds major cities.
To defeat the KMT army, the CCP intelligence must tap into the former’s communication network.
In The Silent War, Hong Kong’s writer-director, Alan Mak and Felix Chong team up once again after their highly-successful Overheard and Overheard 2 and the critically-acclaimed Infernal Affairs trilogy.
But this latest foray into the espionage/triller genre leaves much to be desired. What starts as a promising premise quickly turns into a desperate attempt to relive the commercial success of their earlier movies. The Silent War, based on Chinese author Mai Xia’s bestseller Plot Against, is a tiring but an enduring tale about China’s past.
While Overheard was an instant success, The Silent War is largely one-sided storytelling with underdeveloped characters.
In the movie, Zhou Xun (Painted Skin, Perhaps Love) plays special agent Zhang Xue Ning or Agent 200. She is assigned to bring a renowned piano tuner to a join the “invisible army”, to help tap into the enemy’s communication line. She discovers that the real talent is the piano tuner’s blind assistant, He Bing (Tony Leung), whose hearing is extra sensitive. He is roped in but his relationship with Xue Ning gets complicated with each passing minute.
Leung (The Great Magician, Lust, Caution) easily weaves through his character. His role isn’t at all demanding, and the only time he is put into action often involves twiddling on a few knobs on his stenograph while looking serious. His character is easily forgettable, saved for a few dramatic moments and an abrasive sense of humour.
Zhou’s Xue Ning is sadly an underwritten role. Zhou’s presence onscreen easily commands attention but it is a shame that the movie chooses to focus on the petty dilly dallying instead of her exploits of the enemy’s interest.
The Silent War also lacks onscreen tension that is the hallmark of the duo’s earlier works. Even when He Bing tries to recover secret transmissions from the airwaves and succeeds, it seems rather played-out and predictable.
Regardless of the star power and the predictable box office (especially in China), The Silent War remains under-accomplished and soulless in its execution.
Given the slightly long runtime (two hours), the filmmakers could have come up with a slightly more solid plot and better developed characters. Except for the picture-perfect cinematography, The Silent War is easily forgettable.