Switch or 天机·富春山居图 (2013)
In the days when children were more naive and trusting, the television series based on Superman and other comics used to begin with a warning that everything shown on the screen was pretend. Children cannot actually fly. The sad fact evidenced in hospitals around the country was that young optimists were climbing to the top of pianos or, worse, launching themselves out of windows, expecting that wearing underpants on the outside would enable them to soar. Well, they were wrong. Fast forward to a few years ago when a young Jay Sun was watching some Western films in his local cinema. Here were James Bond and Ethan Hunt (Mission Impossible) doing exciting things in cars and aeroplanes. And this young man thought that when he grew up, he would make films just like them. After all, if Westerners could do it, how difficult could it be. All they did was take a few pictures, transfer them to film and then stick the bits of film together using tape. So now we get to see the fruits of his first labour. It’s called Switch or 天机·富春山居图 (2013) and it’s a disaster movie. Sorry. To resolve the ambiguity. The film is a disaster.
There are many reasons why a film may fail and, with one exception, you can see them all on display if you make the mistake of going to see this film. The exception is that much of the cinematography is stylish. This means you can at least find the odd visual treat to distract you from counting all the other ways in which the film is alternately annoying and depressing you. Let’s start with what’s presented to us as the plot. Centuries ago during the Yuan Dynasty, Huang Gongwang painted a scroll called “Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains”. For reasons not explained, this masterpiece was later cut into two. At some point during the Japanese invasion, a general made a copy of the half he found but, at the end of the war, that’s all his family had left. The original was recovered and later put on display at the Taipei National Museum. The other half is in the Hangzhou Museum, China (or perhaps that’s a copy too). Anyway, the plan is to bring both halves together so, instead of allowing this to happen and providing a single location to attack, violently inclined thieves set out to steal both halves.
Enter secret agent Xiao Jinhan (Andy Lau). You know he’s a secret agent because he drives one of these large white Hummer-type trucks with a massive microwave transmitter/receiver on the roof so he need never be out of touch with his boss who’s called F (cunningly extracted from the acronym SNAFU). It would not be possible to give our spy a more unobtrusive mode of transport. He’s married to an insurance project director Lin Yuyan (Jingchu Zhang). Appropriately, she’s called in to advise on security for the Chinese end of the operation but her advice is ignored (or not — I’m not sure on the point). Anyway, there are two groups competing with each other to steal these halves. One is Japanese. Yamamoto (Tong Da Wei) is the son of the Japanese general who had the copy made. Watch out for the finger betting scene to see why we’re supposed to think him sadistic and depraved. He’s assisted by a cohort of female warriors led by Lisa (Chiling Lin). There’s also a group of British heavies based in Dubai where they seem to have negotiated carte blanche with the local authorities to do whatever they like with fast cars, helicopters and gun, lots of guns. There’s a third group led by Empress (Gaowa Siqin) but apart from offering smuggling services, their role is uncertain.
OK so here goes. Both halves of the painting are stolen but Super Agent X switches them for copies, or not. It doesn’t really matter because neither of the halves stolen are the originals. But no-one involved knows this apart from F and possibly X. But they switch them anyway because that makes all the bad guys uncertain as to whether they have the originals. I hope you’re clear so far. So the Japanese bad guy and his gals kidnap X’s son and demand X return the half he switched which he doesn’t mind doing because he’s just returning the copy they stole. So there’s a lot of not very convincing fighting and X, ably assisted by his wife, recovers their son and switches the paintings (again) (or not) (I was past caring at this point).
To give you an idea of how inept the fighting is, Agent X and Yamamoto decide to fight to the death with swords so they very carefully put on all that padding you see in the Olympic games and those protective visors so we can’t see their faces, i.e. neither of the actors can fight using swords so the stuntmen have to be disguised for the fight. Even so, the action was filmed in slow-motion and then speeded up which makes it look like a comedy sequence. There’s only one stunt that’s impressive in the entire 120 minutes running tine. A helicopter appears to pick up a car using suction pads and flies across Dubai until it crashes the car into one of these upmarket hotels. Had Andy Lau not run along the beach, jumped into a speedboat, and driven a high-powered sportscar until he crashed through into the foyer of the hotel (and waited for the lift to take him up to where the car had been crashed by the helicopter) he would never have caught up with them and rescued his wife before she fell out of the car seconds before it plunged to the ground below. In other words, the film elevates absurdity into a new art form. As a final reason for not seeing this, the poster image tells you there’s a romantic entanglement to work through. Irresistible Andy Lau is married but has an on-off relationship with Lisa (Chiling Lin) who’s loved by Yamamoto because she looks just like his mother when he was young and fancied her, i.e. his mother (creepy or what?).
So Switch or 天机·富春山居图 (2013) has a largely incoherent and often incomprehensible plot featuring some useless action sequences and fight scenes (albeit that some of the cinematography is quite striking) with gaps between the scenes where the sticky tape holding the film together runs through the projector. Only film students wanting to catalogue all the mistakes as a class project should go to see this film.