Spotlight on Asian Cinema presents That Demon Within

that demon within pic

Reviewed by Alicia Glass

Studio: Emperor Motion Pictures

Director: Dante Lam

Review Rating: 7.5

When a repressed policeman mistakenly saves the life of a notorious criminal lord, the cop develops an obsession to take down the entire crime syndicate of the man he saved!

Hong Kong Police dramas are, let’s face it, a dime a dozen these days, I am sorry to say. This means one needs something new, or at the very least different, to keep the audience glued to the screen. Everything in this film, from the name to the choice of Daniel Wu for the pivotal policeman role, is geared towards being just that – mightily different, just skirting the edges of the likes of I Saw the Devil. Daily atrocity and wickedness doesn’t need a bunch of CGI and explosions to be just as backbreaking, as this fine film clearly demonstrates.

Dave Wong (Daniel Wu) is a policeman, a rather stubborn and unbending one. He dutifully does his job, won’t bend or break the rules for anyone under the sun, and as a result hasn’t been fired from being a cop, but has been shunted around a bunch of different precincts and assignments, since noone can seem to work with him for very long. Wong has issues of his own that we learn piecemeal – other-people death by fire being a major one, also a thing for violent personal penance, and we clearly learn that he’s haunting himself with the ghosts of the past. Not literally, there is no supernatural in the film other than the specialized masks the bad guys wear, and even that is just a plot point, not a hidden furious poltergeist Grudge ghost. Wong tortures himself in his own head just fine, thanks.

So one night, when Wong is working at a hospital, the crime lord known as Demon Hon (Nick Cheung) gets hauled in. Wong volunteers his unusual blood type to save Hon and manages to accomplish it, despite getting screamed at for it by his frustrated Captain. Even here, we’ve already seen at least a little of just how repressed Wong is, and the feeling of the impending explosion of venting that we know damn well is coming, is downright scary. Wong manages to hold it in, despite the concern of his coworkers and other issues he has to deal with, mainly the adoptive grandmother whose health is declining. Wong’s fellow cops are going up against Demon Hon and his own turncoat men, and more and more monstrosities are being visited upon they whom are supposed to be the righteous. Death is everywhere, and even as we see Wong punish himself in his fathers own voice, we the audience begin to suspect that things are even more not-right than usual. Somewhere in the midst of this complicated mess, Demon Hon was supposed to have been, finally, killed. Yet Wong is still seeing him everywhere, and most especially and horrendously, in the mirror. When we realize the film has taken a sudden swerve into Fight Club territory, it’s glorious because there is also the distinct possibility the entire movie was like that too, not just the latter half. And whoever heard of such a mashup, in a Hong Kong police movie?

Moxie is not gonna give away the ending, but suffice to say, given that the film is an Asian police drama, that it isn’t a pleasant ending for anyone. How much Policeman Wong brought on himself and how much was the fault of his surroundings and circumstances, are also left to your own judgement. Personally I think that, in the end, Wong paid his penance in full and managed to do his domineering father proud in the process.

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