Divergence Review

For all the chatter it prompts in the accompanying featurette Divergence’s title is nothing more than a piece of nonsense. Director Benny Chan and his cast whiter on at length about characters being at a crossroads and the like, yet essentially it’s the kind of thing we find straight-to-video Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicles lumbered with. Admittedly, this particular venture is the better option, but only just. As with the majority of Chan’s previous efforts – most notably Gen-X Cops and its sequel – it’s slick and professionally mounted, but ultimately empty and has nothing to say. Moreover, his confidence has clearly grown with each ensuing picture and as such he now shows off in more spectacular, if hardly flamboyant, style. The credit sequence combines animated titles, speeded up and slowed down footage, extravagant overhead shots, and an overwhelming piece of orchestral scoring; it’s all much grander than before, though the territory and essential fruitlessness remain the same.

On the surface (a key word when discussing Divergence) the plotting appears rather complex, but then this is merely because we have so many characters to deal with. Cop Aaron Kwok is a tough ex-TV personality whose life has fallen apart since the disappearance of his girlfriend ten years ago. Daniel Wu is a professional hitman who’s recently “silenced” a key witness in an impending money laundering trial, thereby bringing the case to a dead end. And Ekin Cheng plays the lawyer of millionaire Lo Kar Leung, the father of a teen pop sensation who gets kidnapped in the film’s early stages. As you’d expect their individual narrative threads crossover and interconnect at various points, though it’s the kidnapping which takes centre stage. As an aside Chan also rhymes the various characters in a manner akin of Michael Mann’s Heat (or, more tellingly, Infernal Affairs), but only on an indistinct level. We become aware of some borderline psychosis in all three of the main characters and this is generally as far as it extends.

It’s typical of the overall half-assed approach which Divergence demonstrates throughout. The film never feels forceful enough in any of its characteristics, but rather throws as much at the screen as possible in the hope that something may stick. Kwok finds himself with a potential comic sidekick in the early stages, for example, yet he’s unceremoniously abandoned when the plot moves onto other things. Likewise, we find Eric Tsang cropping up in an extended, but completely inconsequential cameo – it may further associations with Infernal Affairs yet that’s all there is to it, otherwise the character’s completely lacking. More problematic, however, is the fact that Chan is a director without any distinguishing features. Certainly he can make a professional job of a set piece, but this is as far as it goes. One particular moment sees Kwok and Wu face off with heads wrapped in plastic – exactly the bizarre idea which a more imaginative filmmaker would latch onto, yet here it’s never able to fulfil such potential. Indeed, Chan is decidedly anonymous in his approach with any attempts at characteristic touches – time lapsed clouds and the like – resembling nothing more than stock footage.

As such we’re left with just another cop thriller, albeit one that’s a little busier in the plot department than usual. Not that this should be deemed any kind of recommendation, however, as this too creates its own problems. Most prominent is the fact that it results in the most ridiculous of conclusions as screenwriter Ivy Ho attempts to tie up all of the loose end and bring the various threads together. Yet in do so the easy route is repeatedly taken making for some of the most jaw-droppingly banal and/or unlikely of endings imaginable. And once again this just goes to show the sheer lack of imagination and genuine effort which have gone into Divergence. It may be slick enough to remain watchable, but that hardly means that it should be worth your while.

The Disc

Gaining a release in the UK courtesy of Momentum, Divergence gets a reasonable if unexceptional Region 2 release. The film itself comes in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, anamorphically enhanced and taken from what appears to be a spotless print, but, as is so often the case, blighted by an NTSC-PAL transfer. To be fair it’s not the worst that you’ll come across – the clarity is generally good on anything closer than a medium shot, the colour scheme appears to be as intended – yet it’s also true that we’re not getting the film as good as we should, and as such this is a problem. As for the soundtrack, here we find the original DD5.1 plus an optional, and very good, DTS track. In both cases there are no technical problems to speak of, meaning that it’s down to personal preference as to which one you go for. Admittedly, those without DTS capability aren’t missing out on too much, but it’s a welcome addition nonetheless.

With regards to the extras, this Momentum release drops the commentary and music video found on the two-disc Hong Kong Region 0 offering (of which Noel Megahey’s review can be found here), but retains everything else. Thus we find a 15-minute ‘making of’ in the typical EPK fashion – brief soundbites, plenty of clips – alongside two minutes worth of premiere footage (concluded by the excited responses of the general public), brief biographies for the cast and crew, a gallery seemingly made up of screen caps, and the original theatrical trailer. All of which is fine as far as it goes, though you couldn’t really describe any of these pieces as essential. (Note that, where applicable, the special features are in Cantonese and come with optional English subtitling.)

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