In the world of crime, it could be argued that financial criminals are the true supervillains. While their acts usually don’t involve much violence, the greed of one person or company can cause damage on an unimaginable scale, affecting huge groups of people or even nations. Just take a look at the Enron or 1MDB scandals.
As huge impact as financial crimes are, however, they are not always very cinematic. It’s not easy to make shady corporate transactions or account falsifying riveting on film. And this goes double for scenes of corporate trials: watching the laws of banking and tax evasion in action can be hard for a layman to follow.
Which is why it is to director Alan Mak’s credit that his latest film, Integrity, manages to be as compelling as it is.
This is a film where the main conflict is a whistle-blower failing to show up in court, and a cryptocurrency scheme is a main plot element. It’s all rather complicated, but somehow, exciting as well.
Integrity is the story of King (Sean Lau) an investigator in Hong Kong’s national anti-corruption commission, who becomes involved in a high-profile smuggling case involving a tobacco company. A key witness, the whistle-blowing accountant Jack (Nick Cheung) fails to appear in court. Instead, he flees to his home in Sydney.
Fellow investigator Shirley (Karena Lam), who is also King’s estranged wife, is tasked to retrieve him. The judge gives the investigators seven days to produce Jack, or the case is dropped, which starts a race against time: this turns out difficult as the case happens to be much, much more complicated than it appears.
When it comes to stories about shady deals and corrupt officials, Mak is perhaps a specialist. He is, after all, the co-director of the acclaimed Infernal Affairs trilogy (Whose first instalment inspired Martin Scorcese’s The Departed.), and the Overheard trilogy, both of which involved similar elements. So it’s perhaps no surprise that his latest film mostly succeeds, managing to be an heavily-plotted, atmospheric and suspenseful.
Yes, the intricacies of financial law can be a bit hard to understand at times, but Mak does a mostly fine job of keeping his story accessible. There are occasional moments of humour – most work, although some can seem a bit out of left field. There is also a small subplot about King and Shirley’s relationship, which comes as a nice relief from the film’s heavier material.
Ever dependable actor Lau gives a good performance as the determined investigator, who will resort to any means to get justice done.
Lam also plays nicely as Shirley, and Cheung is very charismatic as Jack, so much so that you’re compelled to root for him even though his actions are what causes much of the film’s conflict.
The internationally-set story also means quite a few scenes are shot in Australia, which is nice, although all the Caucasians speak with American accents for some reason. Maybe it’s the New York quarter of Sydney? Lets give the film the benefit of the doubt.The rest of this review would be very positive, if not for the film’s last act. It is at this point that Integrity changes completely – it almost feels like the film’s original writer gave up, and decided let a different person to write the ending.
The slow-burning character reveals are replaced by bombastic action and explosions. Flashbacks appear where none were used before. And two or three twists are thrown at the audience in a rapid, confusing manner that completely overthrows everything that happened previously.
Which is a pity, as things were pretty good up to last quarter of the film. Overall, Integrity is still a good watch – catch it for its fine performances and tight plot. If only its structural integrity hadn’t given out at the final lap.
Catch this movie at Golden Screen Cinemas nationwide. Follow GSC on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Director: Alan Mak
Cast: Sean Lau, Nick Cheung, Karena Lam