WTF ASIA 160: Explosion (2017)

Sometimes, life can just blow up in your face.

Available in the United States…really? Is that it? Well, that is more than other movies, I guess. Anyways, perhaps a few other countries. Approximately 106 minutes.



Shortly after Zhao Xudong was born, a fortune teller warned against letting him become mine-worker like his father. When Xudong was 12, his father died in the mine. And when Xudong was 17, he began working in a mine. Over two decades later, he still works as the main explosives engineer: a mine detonator. It is like he continued his father’s life.

Xudong and a coworker carry boxes of dynamite into the mine and go deep in. They drill a hole in the wall to put in dynamite. They put…blister mud (?) in, seal up the hole with…stuff and walk travel back.

They turn off the electricity and warn all of the other miners to clear out from the blast zone. Xudong turns the switch to set off the dynamite and…oh…fire rushes up the mine, reaching him. That was probably not supposed to happen.

Xudong wakes up in a medical bed to see the mine’s head of safety department Wang Sanbai looking down at him. Sanbai asks him questions to see if he had suffered any major memory loss. Two big guys escort him from the bed outside, past a room where four mine workers lie dead.

The men take Xudong to see Li Yi, referred to as Brother Yi. Yi owns the mine and looks like he is not quite on the up and up. He blames Xudong for blowing his mine as well as killing those four men. Xudong insists that nothing like this had ever happened during his decades on the job. Yi hits him in the stomach and was probably going to do more before Sanbai tries to calm him down. Sanbai offers Xudong an advance payment and tells him to stay away from now on. Having had a little time to settle down, Yi says that he will not harass Xudong. But if he goes to the police, then Yi will kill him. Oh…Everyone leaves except for Xudong and one of Yi’s goons, who half-suffocates Xudong with a trash bag before also leaving.

Xudong goes to the restaurant run by his girlfriend, Xiao Hong, but he loiters outside until she sees him. Eventually, he goes in and they have dinner together, but it gets interrupted by police officer Xu Feng. He asks about Xudong’s injuries and Xiao Hong lies that he got them helping her move stuff. She tries to stop the two from drinking, but walks away when it turns out that they are going to drink anyways.

Xu Feng brings up the accident in the mine, which Xudong immediately denies. Xu Feng shows him a picture of a dead co-worker, whom Xudong claims to know only kind of know. Xu Feng asks him again about his head, and Xudong does not answer. Xu Feng claims that he can tell when Xudong is lying, having known him since he was twelve. Xudong continues to stay silent until Xu Feng asks whether they can move on from the past. Xudong finally speaks, saying that it was he who went to prison, not Xu Feng. Xu Feng counters that it was Xudong who broke the law by illegally making black powder. Xudong argues that that black powder helped make Xu Feng the head of the police force. He then marches outside to vomit up his dinner.

Xu Feng follows him outside, saying that he felt bad about Xudong’s mother. Xudong responds by punching Xu Feng and telling him to never mention his mother.

Xudong returns to the mine once day after day, looking around at the piles of whatever was salvaged from the explosion. One day, Li Yi asks a nervous Sanbei what Xudong is looking for. Sanbei says that he does not know, but that perhaps it would be good just to make him leave. Yi seems to be turning it around on Sanbei, and Sanbei notices. So Sanbei…um…hits himself in the head with a mining tool, drawing blood. Blood that could have gotten on Yi’s shoes, which he had just been wiping. Yi gives him a towel to wipe the blood off and invites him for dinner that night.

…somewhere that has a fishtank…Sanbei speaks with a mysterious stranger, telling him that Li Yi is getting suspicious, and that there would be trouble if Xudong continues to investigate. The mysterious stranger implies that such an investigation would expose only Sanbei.

Xudong goes to a mine lab to have technician Liao Yan analyze a piece of debris. He asks Liao Yan to check the mine with him, but Yan responds only by handing him a couple stacks of cash, in thanks for covering for him after an accident all those years back. Perhaps the same accident that put Xudong in prison. Yan continues to say that there is no point in trying to work out what really happened and get more people in trouble.

I guess that Yan got distracted during his little speech, as a drop of whatever was in his eye dropper falls on his shoe and starts making a little hole in it. Xudong carefully removes Yan’s shoe and they both go through the factory and outside to a…uh…blast pit? Xudong throws the shoe into the pit and they duck as it explodes.

Xudong asks what this stuff is for, as Yi’s mine did not use it. Yan does not say, and Xudong warns him about prison. Some guy in a car arrives and Yan runs over to him to say that it is all ready. What is all ready? Who is this guy in the car? Well, whatever. Yan has abandoned Xudong for that other guy whom he calls Jiu. Xudong will get no answers here.

So, Xudong goes back to the mine, even going into the tunnel this time. He looks around and tries to recall various things that happened the day of the explosion. He finds…one of those blister mud things that he put in the hole with dynamite. Sanbei had given them to him. He cuts it open and sniffs the liquid inside.  What could this possibly mean?

Sanbei sneaks up behind Xudong and swings what looks like a pick axe at him. Xudong dodges just in time. Sanbei continues to attack him, even hitting him a couple times, but Xudong eventually gets the upper hand. He ties Sanbei’s hands together and leads him out of the tunnel. Sanbei pleads with Xudong, offering him money, and Xudong almost hits him with a pipe.

Li Yi and his goons are waiting outside. Sanbei shouts that Xudong was going to take him to the police to report the accident. Xudong interrupts him, accusing Sanbei of causing the explosion by giving him blister mud thingamees full of fuel. Sanbei protests, but Xudong presents Yi with one of those things. I don’t know what any of this means, but Yi is convinced.

Yi puts the blister mud in a helmet and lights it up, making it catch fire. Sanbei tries to say that Xudong put the fuel in there himself, and Yi asks whether Xudong did that to commit suicide. Just as I wonder whether Yi is going to put that helmet on Sanbei’s head, Yi dunks him in a barrel full of…liquid, as Xudong holds the helmet and Yi’s goons look on.

Sanbei is dead and now it is Xudong’s turn to feel Yi’s wrath. Was he really going to go to the cops? Before Yi can continue that line of inquiry, he gets a message on his phone. Someone was recording Sanbei’s murder. They don’t yet know that that someone was Jiu. But Yi knows who hired Jiu.

Yi and his goons go to a hospital and enter a pretty large room where Yi meets…oooo…the mystery man. His name is Cheng Fei, and he has been trying to wrest ownership of the mines away from Yi. Yi has his goons wait outside the room so the two can talk. Why would he need six goons if they are just going to wait outside…anyways…

Cheng Fei asks Yi whether he can keep the explosion a secret, with four men dead. Now five. He goes over to the bed where his son lies in a coma. Wiping down his son’s arm, Cheng Fei tells Yi to sign the contract if he wants to get rid of the video footage. With no choice, Yi signs.

Yi returns to his office where Xudong has been tied up and gagged. While he had deleted the footage of him murdering Sanbei, he still has footage (with audio) of Xudong threatening Sanbei. Yi spins a narrative that Xudong killed Sanbei for revenge. He then says that he wants Xudong to take care of someone for him. Xudong insists that he will tell no one anything, but it is too late for that. Li Yi has a mission for Zhao Xudong, and he had better accept it or else.





Due to the somewhat idiosyncratic manner in which I choose what movies to watch, I have ended up with a rather long watchlist. The order in which I pick them often comes down to country of origin and running time. That often means that, by the time I get around to watching a specific film, I may have long since forgotten what its premise was or why I picked it in the first place. So, when I started watching this film, all the information that I had for it was the title, the country of origin, and the runtime. Perhaps, if I actually looked once again at the image that accompanied the movie, I may have gotten a clue, but I didn’t.

For the first…maybe 15 minutes or so, I was unsure where the movie was going or even what type of movie it was. As the film progressed, I figured that, given the title, that the movie was about the fallout of that fatal explosion at the beginning. Technically, I was correct. The only question was how the movie would present the fallout. Would it be a grim drama about grief, guilt, becoming a community pariah, and the dangers of corner-cutting? Okay, maybe that last one would not get past the Chinese censors, but the rest might. As it turns out, the film was nothing of the sort. Could it have been a good movie had it been what I thought it was? Maybe. Could it have been a better movie? Maybe. But I still quite enjoyed what I got. Some of that may have been due to it throwing my expectations for a loop, but I still think that it worked on its own. Anyways, it is called Explosion and not Coming to Terms with the Psychological Consequences a Fatal Mining Accident.

So, instead of a grim drama, it turns into a rather fun action crime movie. The main character is not particularly great with his fists or with a gun. But since he is an explosives expert, you can sort of guess what he tends to do to get out of scraps. And he gets into a lot of scraps. Of course, he cannot simply plant bombs every time, so his methods tend to be a mix of desperate creativity and just wild desperation.

I feel like that particular novelty is what gives an otherwise kind of standard action thriller a bit of its own charm and a dash of unpredictability. It also helps a little that the story takes a few unexpected little turns on its own. Not all of these choices work. There were a couple of moment that made me raise my eyebrows and two moments within five minutes of each other that struck me as just bizarre scripting. Additionally, I do wish that Yu Nan, whom you might remember from the second Expendables movie, had a little more to do. Still, the roundabout ways that the movie goes to get from point A to point wherever is fun to watch.

No, not the deep, sobering character study of a man whose life work leads only to death. But it is a fun little romp about…things blowing up. If you are more in the mood to watch the latter than the former, then here you go.




WTF ASIA 161: The Classified File (South Korea: 2015, approx. 107 minutes)


Available in Canada, the United States, and perhaps a few other countries.


WTF ASIA 162: Peepli Live (India: 2010, approx. 109 minutes.


Available in AustraliaCanadathe Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the United States, and perhaps a few other countries. Also Einthusan.