Two escaped prisoners join one of the most powerful gangs in Shanghai, the Green Gang, as the right-hand men of the head boss Mr. Tang. When Mr. Tang tries to gain total control over business dealings in Shanghai, he discovers his closest allies are not who they seem and turn against his own men to protect his power.
As a movie buff, I enjoy all genres of film, but there are several that I really attach too, crime/gangster being one of them. The great thing about this genre is that the movies are generally developed around the sinister actions of criminals or gangsters, bank robbers, underworld figures, or ruthless individuals who operate outside the law, stealing and acting violently throughout their life. Most crime or gangster films have similar characters and setting, but it’s the way the story and structure are handled that determines the great movies of this genre, but also the bad. “The Game Changer” accomplishes just enough with these main necessities to be a good gangster film.
The story is set in the 1930s and stars Peter Ho as Li Zihao, a member of an underground student organization known as the Blue Shirts, who have been protesting against and killing Japanese officials. The Japanese react by attacking the organization, with local mob boss Tang Hexuan (Wang Xueqi) leading the way. Li Zihao is then tortured and thrown in jail. One year later, he encounters Fang Jie (Huang Zitao), and they both help each other to escape the prison they were held in. Fang is the adoptive son of Tang Hexuan and the fiancé of his daughter Qianqian (Gulnazar). The crime lord then takes Li under his wing after he saves his daughter during an assassination attempt. But Li realizes that Tang helped murder many people in his organization and still seeks revenge, but Li isn’t the only person who wants Tang dead. Tang then creates a plan to take his opponents down by faking his own death, and to make things more complicated Qianqian falls in love with Li and his lover from his Blue Shirts days reappears in his life.
As you can tell from the synopsis there is a lot going on with his movie, which is one its main issues. The director, Gao Xixi, takes tropes used in most gangster films and tries to make a unique story with a lot of them sandwiched into this movie. There are several ideas that are very compelling, but just don’t have enough time focused on them. For instance, there is a revenge story with Li and Tang, a whole family story revolved around Tang, Fang, and Qianqian that has very little background substance that I feel is needed, the story of the different mobs that are in Shanghai, and there is a love triangle in the film as well. This is a lot of plot for a 130-minute picture. So while all the stories and sub-plots are very entertaining, a few of them just weren’t as developed as I would’ve liked them to be.
One of the best elements in “The Game Changer” was the pacing. It managed to keep the pace fast and the audience interested with its action-filled sequences, from the prison escape scene to start of the movie, all the way to the explosive ending. The first action sequence felt like Zack Snyder was behind the camera because of its dark color pallet, and extensive amount of slow motion used, and it looked amazing. The action was a huge part of the film, and it felt very modern. There were several scenes that felt like they were ripped out of a fast and furious movie. The visuals in the film were good, but not great. The costume design and setting made me feel like I was in that era. There were several scenes where the CGI looked very shoddy, and there were some bad green screen instances, but all in all, it was very pleasing to watch. The best thing about the movie is how over the top it is. Whereas most gangster films, focus on the story, character development, and structure, and less on the shootouts and fight scenes, “The Game Changer” flips that notion on its head.
The two main characters driving the story were Li and Tang, and both were great characters. Li played a more subtle and dull individual but was the most bad-ass person when he was onscreen since he is basically a one-man army. Even though he had virtually no personality shown in the movie, he does have both female leads falling in love with him. I guess being a brooding bad ass has its advantages. Tang was a one-note character throughout, and I was completely okay with that notion since all I needed to see was an intimidating crime lord. The two female leads were good but just didn’t receive enough screen time. The most effective character in the film, to me, was Fang. He is an immature character, but is definitely deadly as anyone else, and may have a little temper problem. A character like this usually loses my interest quick because they get annoying, but there were enough striking factors about him to keep me intrigued. I was pleasantly surprised about the approach the writers took when Fang finds out that Qianqian has fallen in love with Li. They never focus on the feud with Li and Fang and try to make a huge confirmation about that, but instead, continue to focus on the other stories already developed.
All in all, I was very surprised by “The Game Changer.” I went into this movie with no expectations and came out completely satisfied. The action throughout was fun, and the design and visual effects were very appealing to watch. The film failed to be fully developed, and I felt as if I have there was nothing new to come out of this film, especially for the gangster genre. I wouldn’t necessarily watch this film for its story and sub-plots, but I definitely would for its over the top, gun-slinging action!
Available on Digital HD, Blu-ray & DVD Tuesday, October 3rd