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Sunday
Jul012018

ANIMAL WORLD

Stars: Li Yifeng, Michael Douglas, Zhou Dongyu, Cao Bingkun and Wang Ge.
Writer: Han Yan, based on the comic by Nobuyuki Fukumoto.
Director: Han Yan

Rating: 2/5

It is inconceivable that anyone might be pining for a film set in the bowels of a floating warehouse where dozens of desperate sweaty lowlifes take on a maths nerd in a high-stakes game of paper-rock-scissors, but here we are. Here, also, is Hollywood royalty Michael Douglas, who will most likely stay hidden behind the pile of cash he earned to play broad villainy when Animal World pops up in any career re-appraisal.

A Chinese-backed adaptation of Nobuyuki Fukumoto’s manga classic Ultimate Survivor Kaiji, writer/director Han Yan’s latest is a garish, cumbersome, piecemeal film. At different moments, it is a revved-up fantasy actioner, a grimy dystopian-world survival story, a lecture in statistical odds, and a big-screen spin on poker-machine graphics; it strives yet strains to be a convincing mash-up of Snowpiercer, Rainman and The Hunger Games. It fails on all fronts save some technical prowess, resulting in an aggressively pointless 140 minutes of misdirection and incoherence.

A likable Li Yifeng plays down-on-his-luck arcade-clown Zheng Kaisi, a morose figure falling worryingly behind on hospital payments that keep his comatose mother in care. During those moments when life deals him a bum hand, Kaisi disappears into a complex fantasy realm, the ‘Animal World’, where his clown character is a ninja-style assassin who can lay waste an entire train carriage of CGI-generated monsters. His psychic bond to the clown visage dates back to a childhood moment when his family home was raided and his father removed…all while a cartoon clown dispatched evildoers on the television.

With no means to cover hospital costs and having been swindled out of his family’s property assets by backstabbing childhood friend Li Jun (Cao Bingkun), Kaisi is left with no options when Douglas’ silver-haired, cold-blooded boss-man comes calling. He is soon aboard a sort of steam-punk freighter/industrialized cruise ship called ‘Destiny’, one of dozens of men who must collect brass stars and offload cards in a game-show-meets-Vegas version of paper-rock-scissors.

Conceptually, there exists the potential for a twisty, heist-like narrative energy as Kaisi’s beautiful mind starts working the different angles that will win him the ultimate goal – freedom from Destiny and a debt-free existence. But director Yan employs low-rent graphics to explain Kaisi’s in-depth analysis of how to beat the house; the 80-minute mid-section of Animal World is a series of interminable and utterly confounding sequences in which the cards that symbolize the three game options dance about cinematographer Max Da-Yung Wang’s otherwise handsomely filled widescreen.  

The heavily circulated trailer for the film promised a pulsating action-fantasy epic, with lashings of Deadpool-type irreverence, that never materialises. The train-carriage monster slaughter (which recalls better moments from the Men in Black films) and an admittedly terrific car chase all take place in the head of the protagonist; they represent nothing more than showy CGI bluster. Not for the first time but perhaps never quite so egregiously, a trailer has ‘buried the lead’ – Animal World is the Paper-Rock-and-Scissors wannabe-blockbuster that absolutely no one ever asked for. That unofficial fourth option the desperate PRS player calls upon– dynamite – would have come in handy.

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