Starring Peter Ho, Huang Zitao, Guli Nazha, Wang Xueqi, Choo Ja-hyun, Jack Kao, Long Meizi. Directed by Geo Xixi. (2017, 133 min). WELL GO USA
In the first 20 minutes of The Game Changer, we are hit with a campus riot, two destructive car chases (one of which includes a horse-drawn carriage), a mob shoot-out in the streets of Shanghai, a violent prison escape and more dead gangsters than the entire Godfather trilogy. Then the film settles into its actual story.
Set in 1930, Peter Ho and Huang Zitao are Lin and Fang, who befriend each other during a prison escape. Fang is the adopted son of Mr. Tang (Wang Xueqi), the city's most powerful mob boss. Tang welcomes Lin to the fold, entrusting him to watch over his daughter, Qianian (Guli Nazha), who immediately falls in love with him. This bothers Fang, whose own love for Qianian drives a wedge in their friendship, but the two remain committed to protecting each other because of Lin's apparent loyalty to Tang. Meanwhile, Tang is constantly killing anyone he feels threatened by, even those close to him.
However, Lin is not quite the loyal enforcer he seems to be. As a former member of a secret organization, the Blue Shirt Society, Lin has a damn good reason for wanting to take down Tang. He also discovers his former lover, Lan (Choo Ja-hyun), is still with the organization, working undercover as a cabaret singer in Tang's nightclub.
If all this sounds a lot like a prime time soap opera, that's probably because The Game Changer is based on a popular Hong Kong TV series, Shanghai Bund.
And subtle, this movie ain't. The plot is almost inconsequential, mostly there to link numerous action sequences, which are a kinetic combination of well-choreographed stunts, gunplay, close-quarters combat and some none-to-convincing CGI. The Game Changer might also boast highest onscreen body count of any gangster movie since 1983's Scarface.
Everyone dresses to-the-nines in fedoras, trenchcoats and designer outfits, barking dialogue straight out of a pulp novel. The performances are uniformly decent and the main characters are interesting. Ho makes a great anti-hero, favoring action over words, while Xuenqi infuses Mr. Tang with a cold-hearted cruelty that easy to hate.
There isn't a hell of a lot of depth, but for the most part, it is a lot of fun. There's an abundance of stylized action and violence to make up for some of the slower stretches. The Game Changer overstays its welcome a bit and the ending kind-of sucks, but fans of gangster epics should find it quite enjoyable.