Cyber Heist Review: Aaron Kwok Shows Off His Typing Skills As Hacker In Dumb & Dated Conspiracy Thriller
Starring Aaron Kwok, Simon Yam, Gordon Lam Ka-Tung
Directed by Wong Hing Fan
Funny how movies sometimes insert lines to mock themselves in an accidental manner.
“Don’t condescendingly think that you’re smart,” the main baddie (Gordon Lam) tells Aaron Kwok, playing a tech wiz-turned-rabbit on the run, who really is smarter than everyone else here.
Problem is, this computer-heavy flick, unlike Kwok's character, is just not as clever or as sophisticated as it thinks it is.
This show wants to be a snazzy, brainy tech-cool conspiracy thriller about hackers and viral attackers, spouting urgent terms like “firewall”, “backdoor”, “Tor” and “Dark Web”. But it’s actually just a plain old, mundane deal about bad people stealing good people's money.
Its wow factor — a nebulous CGI-ed tree-filled virtual world which Kwok projects himself into as an avatar to confront hackers in the form of black-clad dudes carrying lighted-up suitcases while scurrying through open doors — is so piled-on dreary and cheapo-looking, it seems almost juvenile.
The film’s production notes warn grimly that “a menacing forest of fibre and data lies behind every digital screen” with the internet being “a nest of deadly computer viruses”.
At one point, Kwok even enters cyberspace right through his computer screen in a reverse ghost-through-TV thingy borrowed from the horror pic, The Ring.
But you gotta know that even within this movie, none of this is happening. It's just this flick’s graphic motif to make Kwok pounding boringly on his keyboard seem more visually exciting. It’s all rays of lights and pixelated forms inside the cyber realm with Kwok wearing a transparent face mask presumably to avoid breathing in the ether. Making this look like a cut-rate instead of a cutting-edge Tron world.
Even more predictable is the Dark Web which Kwok visits since he’s deep into bugs and nefarious stuff. “These people are lunatics,” he is cautioned about the sickos lurking inside as he goes into a criminal underworld inhabited by sinister figures in hooded robes in what looks like a Masonic dungeon for fallen evil monks.
I mean, who on earth is in charge of imagining these digital worlds so literally?
Kwok plays Cheuk Ka-Chun, a brilliant engineer at a cybersecurity company, Sky Magic Pro, that provides supposedly impenetrable online protection for Hong Kong banks.
His requisite backstory is that he used to be imprisoned for selling viruses he created like a twisted salesman. Seriously, why are these brainiacs always reformed convicts? But now the fella has a young daughter he totally adores who has a medical condition. Which means he’ll do anything under severe duress when she’s kidnapped and put in danger.
The man develops an untested firewall — dubbed rather uninspiringly as Firewall-X — for the banking system which is great except for one little flaw. The fox is right inside the hen house when the crooked top honchos in his company itself attack their own firewall to secretly funnel millions from bank accounts as though they’re their personal ATMs.
You don’t need to be a super genius to know who gets wrongfully accused big-time here as Cheuk becomes the prime suspect since he’s supposed to be the guy guarding the gate. Set up by his murderous boss, Chan Ming-Chi (Lam with stylish hair signifying “rich tech sleazeball”), he flees from the cops, led by Simon Yam's head of the Cyber Crimes Unit. You’d think it really should be the Diaper Crimes Unit instead because they look like bungling infants always two steps behind in the chase.
Their quarry, as you might expect when Kwok puts on thinking-man spectacles and acts geeky-jumpy-unhunky clutching his laptop as a constant companion, is no pushover in outsmarting and outrunning them. In direct contrast to this tale which, as it goes on, makes you realise that, despite its intentions about a murky web jungle, is basically quite straightforward.
Plus, maybe it’s the bad translation, but even the very word the film uses to describe the crime here is grossly misleading. Cyber Heist’s English subtitles keep labelling the dark deeds as “money laundering”. When actually, nobody is hiding or masking any money since it’s stolen in plain sight as the loot is simply transferred illegally from one account to another.
Now, a proper “money laundering” caper would, of course, require much more cerebral effort and knowledgeable scripting which director Danny Wong Hing Fan (who directed Kwok splendidly in 2020's I'm Livin' It) and his writers apparently aren't too keen to expend to enhance their typical HK crime fare. Unlike, say, an intricate Japanese or Korean pic which would likely blow minds away.
It’s then all up to the somewhat limited but always dependable Aaron Kwok to make even the typing of a keyboard look gripping.
You know he's being artificially intelligent here, but you commend him for his earnestness which makes us stick with him from the real world to the cyber world to the fugitive world. Including an over-exerted Jackie Chan-style action scene at a scaffolding set-up which makes you worry a little for his late-50s bones.
Both he and Lam are cosy familiar faces in making battle as desperate men.
There’s an underlying pleasure in watching these two old pros — Lam's ambiguously villainous Chan is under personal family pressure himself — lock horns in their analog world.
Together, they beat the digital dazzle splashed on here in Cyber Heist anytime. (2.5/5 stars)
Photos: Golden Village/Clover Films