WTF ASIA 210: Saving Mr. Wu (2015)

Yep, that’s right. A third movie about an actor in however many weeks. This time, it is about one who has been abducted.

Available in Canadathe United States, and perhaps a few other countries. Approximately 106 minutes.

It is the 13th day of Chinese New Year and Beijing is busy busy busy, and also fireworks explode randomly. And some police officers are driving around the city, just driving driving driving. They arrive at a karaoke bar and one of them gets out to ask an employee about the people who have their cars parked outside. She tells him that the white one belongs to an executive. He points to one and she tells him that it belongs to a big movie star. She asks him what happened, but he says that he is just asking.

The titular Mr. Wu emerges from the club with an associate and is met by two women who ask to have their picture taken with him and a little girl selling flowers. What time is it? Anyways, they purchase some flowers and are about to pay for parking when the cops intervene.  They say that the car was in a hit-and-run. Mr. Wu tries to explain how that is unlikely, but the cops escalate the situation, pulling a gun when he resists arrest. They force Mr. Wu into the car and speed off. At that point, Mr. Wu realizes what he had probably suspected: these men are not police and he is being kidnapped.  

It is 1:00 AM. That little girl was selling flowers at 1:00 in the morning? Well, anyways…

18 hours and 20 minutes later, the real police have a man in custody. His name is Zhang Hua, and he was the fake police officer who was doing most of the talking during the abduction. He is being held by the Criminal Division and interrogated by two Deputies of Inspection Section. Deputy Xing Feng expresses anger that Zhang Hua impersonated a cop. But Zhang Hua counters that Mr. Wu did as well…in a movie. Deputy Cao Gang asks where Mr. Wu is. Zhang Hua says that he has no idea, angering Xing Feng further. Zhang Hua appears to be more concerned with learning how he got caught.

Other cops are watching the footage of the interrogation. One points out to Division Chief Zhang Guozheng that Zhang Hua keeps looking at the clock. Zhang Guozheng says that that means that they are running out of time, but that Mr. Wu should still be alive. Section Chief Li Jiehui says that Zhang Hua’s partners must be waiting for him to contact them and Zhang Guozheng thinks that they are approaching a contact deadline. Eventually, Zhang Hua reveals that he is waiting until 9 PM, which is when Mr. Wu will be executed. So, the police have slightly under 90 minutes to find him and rescue him.

Zhang Hua tries to negotiate for his freedom if he helps the cops find Mr. Wu. What? How? Well, I guess that Zhang Hua reasons that he was a dead man the moment that he was arrested, so he has nothing to gain by helping the cops unless execution is off the table. Even the weapons would be a death sentence. Wait, what weapons? That pistol?

Jesus Christ. All that for a kidnapping?

When Zhang Hua refuses to say more about the kidnapping instead before the cops agree to his demands, Xing Feng asks about the weapons. He tells them that, 20 days earlier, he met up with a couple of Russians at the border to buy weapons. They tried to pull out of the deal, suspecting that he was a cop. To be fair, the actor would play an undercover cop in a movie a couple of years later, but that is for another write-up. Anyways, Zhang Hua manages to convince the Russians that he is not a cop by…erm…stabbing his interpreter in the arm. After that, the deal goes through and everyone is smiles…well, maybe not the interpreter.

Cao Gang asks Zhang Hua why he bought so many weapons. Zhang Hua dodges, saying instead that he wanted to make history. Cao Gang says that Zhang Hua’s role in history will be unnamed dead man. Zhang Hua grins yet again.

I guess that Xing Feng figured that this line of questioning hit a dead end, so he asks Zhang Hua to guess how they caught him. Zhang Hua says that he was careless, and mentions the women. Xing Feng says five women, including the one today. Zhang Hua laughs, saying that they know everything. Is that a genuine response? Who knows at this point?

Zhang Hua seems to express regrets that he picked such a high-profile target. Even millionaires have cash flow problems, he says. He says that they would have abducted another ordinary guy if they had known. Wait…another ordinary guy? Is there a second hostage? Zhang Hua denies that. Zhang Guozheng enters the interrogation room and takes over for Cao Gang. He tries to make clear how few options Zhang Hua has before asking once again if there is a second hostage. Zhang Hua hesitates for a while, but eventually says yes.

It was the day before the kidnapping…though that turns out to be a bit of a misleading description, as Zhang Hua and one of his underlings kidnapped a guy using the fake cop routine. The crime was not reported. Zhang Hua says that they lucked out, as they thought that the guy was rich due to his fancy car. What was his name? Zhang Hua claims that he never asked.

Oh, and here is a flashback to Zhang Hua talking to the first hostage. The man says that he was merely borrowing the car from a fuck buddy who is dating some rich guy. Zhang Hua says to call her, but the guy doesn’t remember her number, and Zhang Hua had tossed his phone. One of the underlings hits the guy in the head.

Zhang Guozheng asks Zhang Hua if that guy is still alive. Zhang Hua says that he is with Mr. Wu. Zhang Guozheng says that Zhang Hua can eat a box of dumplings and reveal where the hostages are. Or he can keep talking nonsense and go straight to jail. Both cops leave the room so that Zhang Hua can eat alone. Xing Feng thinks that he is going to crack, but Zhang Guozheng says that he is going to hold out for as long as possible.

Now, we have an extended flashback to 45 minutes after the kidnapping. Actually, consider most of what preceded this to have been a flashforward, as we are going to be here for a while.

The kidnappers have arrived at their hideout. They take Mr. Wu inside a house, sit him on a bed, and wrap him in chains. Zhang Hua tells Mr. Wu that he should have walked around with a bodyguard. Mr. Wu quietly says that he sometimes does. Then Zhang Hua asks whether Mr. Wu’s associate may have called the cops.

Of course, the guy called the cops. Cao Gang meets with the guy at the scene of the abduction and asks for the story. The parking attendant starts first, saying that she stayed as far back as possible, due to being scared. Mr. Wu’s associate, a Mr. Cheng, tells the cops that he saw everything.  

Zhang Hua has his minions bring over the other hostage. He asks if the hostage recognizes Mr. Wu and he does. The man introduces himself as Dou. Well, time is up for Dou, so Zhang Hua tell his men to suffocate him. Mr. Wu manages to scream forcefully enough to get Zhang Hua to call off Dou’s murder, and says that he will pay Dou’s ransom.

Zhang Hua has his minions resume the suffocation, but then stops again. He seems surprised at the intensity of Mr. Wu’s screaming that he asks whether he has a connection to Dou. Mr. Wu says that he hadn’t any, but he does now. Now he makes a demand: Zhang Hua takes his money and lets both of them go. That seems to be enough for Zhang Hua. So, the murder is off…for now.

Mr. Cheng is at a police station going through footage of the city to see if he notices the car. He notices it, but a key intersection camera was broken. So, the police have him look through mugshots. He points out one and without even seeing, Cao Gang knows that it is Zhang Hua. I guess that Zhang Hua has an MO. He reports it to Li Jiehui, who had assumed also that Zhang Hua was the culprit. He goes to bring in Xing Feng and the others.

Xing Feng asks Mr. Cheng why he was at the club. Mr. Cheng says that he is investing in a movie with Mr. Wu as the lead. They had signed the contract and wanted to celebrate. Xing Feng asks if there was anything unusual about him that day and Mr. Cheng says that Mr. Wu and his wife had a fight. Xing Feng asks if Mr. Wu has any relatives in Beijing and Mr. Cheng says for certain that he doesn’t.

After acquiescing to Mr. Wu’s request that he and Dou have their hands cuffed in front of them instead of behind them, Zhang Hua asks him if he is married. Mr. Wu says no. Minion Wei Ge asks if it is true that Hong Kong stars cannot marry early due to fan backlash. Mr. Wu does not answer and, instead, asks how much money they want. Zhang Hua asks him how much he has. Mr. Wu tells him that the card in his wallet has 100,000 RMB, or around 15,380 USD. And that there is another card at his home with 3,000,000 RMB. Zhang Hua is not impressed, having wanted 5,000,000 from Dou. But Mr. Wu tells him to be realistic. Zhang Hua is skeptical that Mr. Wu has only 3,000,000. Mr. Wu says that it is payment for his next movie, and that his savings are in Hong Kong. Zhang Hua asks if his family can wire the money from Hong Kong. Mr. Wu claims that it will be difficult and time-intensive compared to withdrawing cash.

Zhang Hua starts brandishing a pistol around, perhaps trying to intimidate Mr. Wu further. Mr. Wu interrupts whatever Zhang Hua was going to say by asserting that the kidnappers kept their faces uncovered either because they never expected him or Dou to leave alive or they have incredible confidence. Zhang Hua asks if the 3,000,000 will cause him any problems. Mr. Wu asks if he and Dou will be free when the money comes. Zhang Hua asks if they will tell the cops. Is he really okay with giving up that money? Mr. Wu claims that he can make more money, but has only one life. So, Zhang Hua asks him where he lives.

Of course, Zhang Hua doesn’t know that Mr. Cheng has told the cops about that apartment, and is guiding Cao Gang there now. Or, he is trying to, at least; he had been there only once and he does not quite remember where it is.

Anyways, Zhang Hua has left and his minions are playing cards, leaving Dou and Mr. Wu alone. Dou says that he is a fan of his work. Also, he knows that Mr. Wu is married. Before Mr. Wu can respond, one of the minions comes around and gives them some soda. Mr. says that he has diabetes, and asks for tap water. The minion tells him that there is only well water. Well water it is, then. Dou asks for well water too, but the minion hits him. They still get water from the well for Mr. Wu. Here’s to not getting diarrhea.

Now it is 2 hours after the kidnapping.

Mr. Cheng’s faulty memory still has Cao Gang driving around in circles. He asks whether he should tell his friends in the media about the abduction, but Cao Gang says that alerting the public know endangers the hostages further. Eventually, Xing Feng calls with the results of Mr. Wu’s GPS. The apartment is nearby.

Unbeknownst to the cops, Zhang Hua is at Mr. Wu’s apartment, going through his things. He retrieves some cash from the safe as well as the card. He checks the balance and confirms that it is 3,000,000. He continues to look around and notices a photo of Mr. Wu in…the army?

Two of the minions are outside, leaving only one with Dou and Mr. Wu. He sets his rifle against a table and does…something else. Mr. Wu glares at the gun. Can he reach it while the minion is pre-occupied? He tries to imagine what might happen if he could grab onto it and…well, it seems to end up with everyone dead. It is rendered moot, as Zhang Hua tells the minions to tie the hostages up with more chains.

The cops finally arrive at Mr. Wu’s apartment. Of course, Zhang Hua is not there anymore, but they do see that he had phoned a bank ten minutes earlier and there is footage of him leaving. At the station, Xing Feng tells the bosses that this is like the case with the Kong Brothers. He explains that Zhang Hua was released a year ago and recruited fellow inmates to be his minions.

Now the movie flashes back once more to 25 days before the” kidnapping, when Zhang Hua and Co. go to an arcade and “arrest” Second Brother Kong.

Xing Feng goes to Big Brother Kong to try to reason with him, but Big Brother Kong doubts that the police will get his brother back alive. He says that the kidnappers want money, and he has plenty of money to give them, so that is that. If they want a million, then he will give them two.

Big Brother Kong is not cooperating, but Xing Feng and Co. follow him anyways and try to prevent him from tossing a bag of cash off of a bridge. He tosses it anyways and someone on a motorcycle picks it up.

Some time after that, Zhang Hua calls Big Brother Kong to confirm receiving the money. But he says that Second Brother Kong was too arrogant and they could keep him alive. He asks for another million in exchange for the location of the burial spot. Then he laughs, before hanging up. Xing Feng is in the car and has recorded the phone call. He goes to a labor camp and plays the recording to the warden, who immediately recognizes the voice as belonging to Zhang Hua. It is unclear if that is just for confirmation or if this is the first time that Xing Feng has heard of Zhang Hua, but he is now on the trail.

And he had better be. If the case with the Kong Brothers is any indication, both Mr. Wu and Dou will be dead by 9:00 PM.

This movie is loosely based on the actual abduction of actor Wu Ruofu back in 2004. I have read that the director Sheng Ding had originally wanted Wu Ruofo to play Mr. Wu, but he declined. However, in a twisted bit of logic, Wu Ruofo agreed to portray Deputy Cao Gang. That must have been a bit of a trip. Whereas playing the kidnapping victim could have triggered some PTSD, playing one of the cops involved in his rescue may have been a little therapeutic for him. I don’t believe that Mr. Wu’s given name is ever…uh…given. That can lead to a little bit of awkwardness in the dialogue, but whatever.

I must admit that I am not that familiar with Wu Ruofu as an actor. It seems like he has had more experience in the People’s Liberation Army, which he was in for nearly 20 years. So, Mr. Wu’s career trajectory was probably based more on the Hong Kong-born Andy Lau, who plays Mr. Wu.

This movie is split mostly in two sections. There is the police procedural that can switch back and forth a little confusingly between various timelines. And then there is the more straight-forward character piece between Mr. Wu, Dou, and the kidnappers. Sometimes, it switches between them very frequently. It can occasionally be a little disorienting, but one should get used to it after a while. The decision to flash forward to eighteen hours after the kidnapping for around ten minutes before going back is a little odd of a decision, but the film makes it work. The occasional montages of people just living their lives in the city makes it seem like all of this is happening without the public’s knowledge. Those who don’t know will not remember if informed, and those who know a bit will not connect the dots with other things. This is just one story out of many.

I can sort of understand the logic behind the decision to flashforward early on to Zhang Hua being interrogated before going back. This is, after all, a Chinese movie, and the police have to win. So, perhaps the movie has to at least show a clear victory for the cops early on by showing the gang leader under arrest. And the rest of the movie is showing how they got to that moment and how they move on from there to the endgame.

The police side of the story is mostly about the process, which may not necessarily have the right narrative momentum that a movie is meant to have. And, while some of the policework is exciting, the movie also shows that a lot of it is repetitive, time consuming, and frustratingly boring. So, the movie shuffles the sequences around a bit, allowing for a few action sequences from earlier in the timeline to pop up later in the movie. I could have done without the two little action sequences that turned out to be fantasy scenarios, but it is fine.

Since, once again, this is a Chinese movie, the police do not really have much of a personality beyond dedication to the work. They are not master-detectives, just super-disciplined agents of the iron state, going the distance to do their jobs. So, there is not much worry about character growth getting compromised by the mixed-up chronology. There is a small subplot about Xing Feng’s wife frequently trying to contact him about their son’s medical problems. I am not sure if that really works, but I guess that that was meant to add a little color. Whatever. They play their roles.

The character stuff comes from the other side of the story. While most non-cop characters have space to grow and reveal parts of themselves, this movie belongs to Andy Lau as Mr. Wu. Mr. Wu spends almost the entirety of the film sitting on a bed and bound in chains. So, the acting is less in action, and more in how Mr. Wu takes in his surroundings, bonds with Dou, and interacts with his kidnappers.

There is a bit of a cruel irony that this situation has made his life worth perhaps less than what he could make in a year. Mr. Wu feels the need to maintain a sense of dignity and sanity throughout the ordeal. He has to tap into his abilities as an actor as well as unlock some inner strength that he had not had to channel for years. While he does not exude the arrogance of a celebrity, he does sort of try to get on the good side of one of the kidnappers who is a fan, while also verbally sparring with Zhang Hua. It certainly takes a lot of guts to stand up one’s potential murderer while being unable to physically stand up.

Zhang Hua is a fun and somewhat enigmatic villain. He does not so much have a character arc as he more reveals more facets of himself that may or may not be him just playing around. He has this offhand charismatic charm, as if he every scenario he is in is like watching a sporting match with friends at someone else’s house. It is fairly believable that he could get several guys to follow him, particularly if they were similarly criminally minded. He is also unapologetically psychopathic, gleefully playing mind games with everyone. He repeatedly lies to the hostages to test their reactions and keep them off their toes. And even after getting captured and facing the very real prospect of a death sentence, he tries to play the whole thing like a game, speaking cryptically before casually dropping a clue that is enough to allow the investigation to take only one step further.

Action thriller, cat and mouse police procedural, character piece, pseudo-true story. This is a good one.

WTF ASIA 211: Beasts Clawing at Straws (South Korea: 2020, approx. 109 minutes)


Available in AustraliaCanadaFrancethe Netherlandsthe United Kingdomthe United States, and perhaps a few other countries


WTF ASIA 212: Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi (India: 2019, approx. 113 minutes)


Available in AustraliaCanadathe United Kingdomthe United States, and perhaps a few other countries