If rural crime pics are your thing, you can expect plenty of this in writer and director Cui Siwei’s debut outing, Savage, produced by former John Woo cohort Terence Chang. Scenic mountainous views and wintry landscapes are the backdrop for key performances from a cast led by Chang Chen, and an otherwise taut and stylish feature endeavor.
Toggling between two seperate moments, the film depicts the story of Wang, a cop contemplating life in a near-desolate town near Mt. Baekdu where life has ultimately slowed down. He otherwise shares a friendly rivalry with partner Han (Li Guangjie) over love interest, Dr. Sun (Ni Ni), who is set to transfer to Beijing.
At the same time, a harrowing heist is underway highatop a snowy mountainous road, enacted by a trio of robbers led by Damao (Liao Fan), his kid brother, Ermao (Zhang Yicong), and sly sharpshooter, Zhou (Hu Jun). Wang is soon left for dead when he and his partner spot a stranded vehicle amid radio calls over a missing armored convoy transporting gold and get caught in an ambush.
The incident leaves Wang stoic, and he soon learns that the robbers have re-emerged. What follows is a destined clash of cops and robbers amidst an impending blizzard at the top of Mount Baekdu with Dr. Sun stranded and soon tending to Ermao’s wounds, with a deadly gun battle soon to arise.
The intrigue, of course, doesn’t stop between Wang and Damao as our principle villain is also tasked with dealing with a fracturing group among other seedy locals who want their share of a stash of gold that’s been hidden somewhere in wilderness.
Savage offers a seething, often brutal thriller that gets pretty explosive in the second half. The first fifteen minutes are a bit of a slog but things get really interesting and exciting afterward. It’s at a snails pace at best and there isn’t much there in creative plotting.
As for any attentive character development, there’s just enough to add to the stack of suspense, danger and mild shock value that makes Savage a worthwhile, often intense slow-burn crime thriller. The action is great at times, although I wouldn’t say the hand-to-hand bits were Cui’s strong suit as the editing and cinematography in one sequence at a restaurant could have been better.
Savage isn’t perfect, but it’s as upwards of a middle-road a neo-Western thriller as it gets with some fairly taut and stylish delivery to boot. The film is one of two Well Go USA titles opening this Friday on May 3 in select theaters and on VoD and Digital HD.