WTF ASIA 143: Helios (2015)

 

Political squabbling over a terrorist bomb threat? Who would have guessed?

Available in Canadathe United Kingdomthe United States, and maybe a few other countries. Approximately 118 minutes.

 

 

It is the dead of night in the middle of nowhere that an airplane crashed down. A Ms. Yuan is sent to check in on the investigation. There were twelve bodies recovered, but thirteen sets of DNA. A flight attendant is missing, and evidence suggests that he jumped out using paratrooper gear.

Worse, something called DC8 seems to be missing from its spot on the plane. What is DC8?

Yuan forwards the evidence to her boss, who tells her to send it to the leadership in Korea. Why Korea? What was that all about?

Well, anyways, here we are in Korea. In the Blue House of the president? Nope. At a nuclear powerplant, where a group of gun-toting intruders have taken nine scientists hostage…erm…seven scientists hostage. 

One of the still alive scientists takes the baddies to where the nuclear…uh…thingamees are being kept.

They take a few rods with the balls and leave…after killing the rest of the scientists.

It is the birthday banquet for Colonel Choi Min Ho’s little baby. The boy does not seem to appreciate it.

But I am guessing that he appreciates it a lot less when Lieutenant Park arrives and tells him that he needs to leave immediately. Park at least allows Choi some time to say goodbye to his family.

So…now we are in Hong Kong and there is a…uh…drill for what to do during a nuclear spill, being directed by a physics professor named Siu. Inspector Lee interrupts the proceedings, telling the Professor to come with him. Apparently, Siu had been working with Lee’s department, but the relationship has been shaky.

Siu tells Lee that he does not appreciate being ordered around and then kept in the dark. So Lee tells Siu what he knows: Korea’s National Intelligence Service suspects that two dangerous criminals known as Helios and the Messenger have stolen nuclear materials and a mobile device. And the United Kingdom’s MI6 believes that they will come to Hong Kong to sell their stolen goods.

Choi is about to leave for Hong Kong when NIS director Park arrives to see him off. Hmmm…Park…is she related to Lieutenant Park, who is accompanying him to Hong Kong? Well…whatever. Now they are off to Hong Kong.

Lee and Siu arrive at an underground intel center to take part in a meeting. The police have zeroed in on two locations for the possible exchange. A rep for the hospitals says that they will do their best. So does customs and the fire department. Siu is not impressed. DC8 (remember that thing) is a portable weapon developed by the Koreans and Hong Kong does not know how powerful it is. He warns the police to not let the device get hit by bullets. Even a simple leak will endanger Hong Kong, let alone a detonation. If they retrieve it safely, they must ship it out at once.

The Koreans arrive in Hong Kong. Erm…do they speak Cantonese? How are they going to communicate? Broken English? Interpreters? Oh, translating earpieces. Fine. Whatever. They meet Fan of the Counter Terrorism Response Unit and they go with him in his convoy. As Fan is explaining the situation, Choi receives a phone call. A woman says that General had told her to contact Choi. This must be the Hong Kong-based Korean agent that Choi was told about earlier. Well, she received a tip of where the exchange will take place.

A team of police gather by the parking garage where Helios and the Messenger have already arrived. Choi and Park are also there, soon joined by Shin of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the agent in Hong Kong who had called in the tip.

Helios and the Messenger meet with their buyers. I am guessing that they are meant to be Middle Eastern. So, Helios sits down with the definitely not Maori second-in-command, who claims to have no idea who the Messenger is. The definitely not English boss shows up and states his dislike of the Messenger being here as well.

So, one of his goons frisks her and…crosses a line. The Messenger retaliates and almost stabs him. Almost. Things calm down until the Messenger and the boss squabble over who hands over what first.

That argument has to be put on hold because Lee orders the police to go in. And there is a FIREFIGHT! 

The Korean agents try to contribute, but Fan tells them that they are only here as observers. Park does end up contributing anyways. Regardless, the fight is bloody. Several cops are killed. All in the…uh…buyer group are dead. Fan even shoots the boss. The Messenger manages to escape, though not before knifing the goon who had groped her. Helios manages to escape as well, though he loses the DC8 device during a chase with Park.

Park recovers the bag with device, but there is a hole in the bag. Is the DC8 compromised?

The bag is quarantined behind a wall of sandbags when Choi, Park, and Shin go to check on it. They access the device inside, see that it is most likely the DC8 and has not been activated. They still need to go through authentication procedures to make sure that it is real. Siu warns Lee that any mistake would result in the destruction of Hong Kong, but lets him give the go ahead to let the Koreans go through with their shut-down plan. It goes as planned. The device is deactivated…

So…that’s it?

Lee meets with the Koreans, who confirm that this is the device.

Lee tells them that the motorcade is ready to take them to the…what?

Hey, remember Ms. Yuan and her boss from, like thirty-five minutes ago? Well, her boss is Song, a senior official in the PRC. They have arrived in Hong Kong and demand that the DC8 to remain there.

Back at the intel center, Lee asks Song what is going on. The device was Korean and so it belongs to the Koreans. Why would he prevent them from taking it away? Song responds that it is a matter of national security…and overtly states that he will not give more information regarding that. He does say that this is somewhat related to tensions between China and the United States, though not how. Basically, Lee is to just follow orders from Beijing, regardless of whether they make sense to him.

While the device is moved to an area way deep underground, Korean representatives of the NIS arrive at the intel center to demand answers. Fan and Lee tow the line, but Siu is visibly nervous.  Eventually, he stands up. Why does China want to keep this dangerous weapon in Hong Kong, especially since it belongs to the Koreans and they want it back? There is no reason except for political ones. He accuses the task force of changing their attitudes and objectives completely after Song showed up. Song says that Hong Kong police will escort the weapon out of Hong Kong after proper diplomatic mediation. Siu finds this unacceptable, but Lee shuts him down.

So Korea will have to wait to take their weapon back. Meanwhile, Helios and the Messenger are still out there, planning on stealing it again.

 

 

 

This movie is…well…not good. The plot is a mess. The dialogue can get vague or filled with unexplained jargon that I do not believe is familiar to the audience. Some information about what exactly is going on is either withheld until long after it is helpful. Some information is thrown at the audience long before its context becomes clear, rendering its significance meaningless. Scenes do not lead into each other. There are too many characters. Some of them do not even get names, let alone characterization. The inclusion of Koreans seems more like a cynical attempt to exploit the Korean Wave. This movie was not well received by critics or by audiences. And it did not deserve more than it got.

So…uh…why did I decide to feature it?

Well, first off, this would hardly be the first bad movie that I have talked about here. But it is bad in a different way. It plays like a good movie, and if you let it take you in, then you might not notice all of the seams…until they all unravel in a rather bewilderingly spectacular fashion. The tense scenes are tense, building up to action scenes that explode brilliantly. It’s an action flick, after all; they don’t have to make sense, do they? This is a genuinely fun and enjoyable movie.  For the most part.

I also enjoy the political tensions in the storyline. Yes, it is also clumsily handled, but I appreciated that it was even brought up in the first place. Released mere months after the Umbrella Revolution swept Hong Kong, this movie portrays the authorities as just trying to do their jobs, but troubled by attempts by the mainland to impose their will on proceedings and mucking up what should have been a simple exchange. Portrayed as a hub of the world, the movie shows that the people of Hong Kong are more diverse than most other movies care to suggest. It is not much, but it is something.

I am sure that moviegoers and critics could notice the cracks in the movie before it broke, but were probably furious when it actually broke. I, however, did not pay to see this in the movie theater. I was watching it at home on Netflix, and had the freedom to pause the thing when it started to turn. Thus, I could compose myself and prepare myself for the shoe that I had not previously notice to drop. And by the end, instead of booing, I was laughing at the sheer gall. I am not usually one to watch bad movies just to mock them or praise their failed ambitions, but I found the manner of the badness here to be simply fascinating. Watching it unravel was an experience in itself.

How does the movie break? Well, I should not say, as that would both spoil the movie and the experience of watching it. I will say that, while many movies have stories that are basically metaphors for the movie-making process, the story in this movie may serve as a metaphor for its own production. There is one big problem that may have been the source of most of the movie’s other problems, though I have no idea whether it was there when the movie was just a thought or whether it emerged during the making. I would imagine the latter; there is no way that a scriptwriter could write something like this and think that it was not terrible, let alone think that it was good. Perhaps the Umbrella Revolution disrupted production; perhaps the fallout altered the script. Perhaps it was simply a Snowman scenario.

I suppose that I could really try to go searching to see what the reason was, but I kind of like it being a mystery to me. In any case, when it revealed itself, it seemed like all of the questions that I had regarding the story were answered, just not in the way that I had expected or wanted. I would not be surprised if there had been a flawed, but overall well-made movie in there somewhere that will never see the light of day. Regardless, this movie serves as a sign of the times, both then and still now. Maybe not as it had intended, but whatever.

Do I recommend this movie? Eh…no. But…yes…? Look, it is a fun time and definitely had a surprise for me. It was quite a ride before it went off the rails and even moreso after it went off the rails. You know what? Screw it. Yes, I do recommend this movie.

 

 

 

WTF ASIA 144:  A Girl at My Door (South Korea: 2014, approx. 119 minutes)

Wikipedia

Available online.

 

WTF ASIA 145: Commando – One Man Army (India: 2013, approx. 125 minutes)

Wikipedia

Available on Einthusan.tv