Hollywood flash and Hong Kong action collide in Bodies at Rest, the third feature from director Renny Harlin following his leap into the world of Chinese cinema. Best known for helming US thrillers including Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger, the Finnish-born and Beijing-based Harlin previously worked with key Hong Kong talent on the 2016 Jackie Chan action-comedy Skiptrace. This time around, his focus tightens to a single location as gunmen raise havoc inside a Hong Kong morgue.
As in Die Hard 2 (and Die Hard before it), the thrills spill out on Christmas Eve. In this festive season, staff work late at the Kwai Chung Public Mortuary while a black rainstorm rages outside. Forensic pathologist Nick (Nick Cheung) and lab technician Lynn (Yang Zi) are busy with bodies when masked thugs turn up in search of a bullet lodged in a corpse. Nick is quick to pull a sneaky move and make the bad guys leave, but when they wise up to his trick they return straight away with a vengeance.
Adapted from a US screenplay and filmed almost entirely within an immense Beijing set, Bodies at Rest holds its focus on action and keeps up tension as the night’s turmoil unfolds. Nick and Lynn, it turns out, are fully capable of going to battle with the intruders, and when the time comes they put up quite a fight. Accomplished production design throws up a range of handy weapons, special rooms and tough obstacles as Nick, Lynn and others run, hide and do battle throughout the mortuary. And while Harlin goes big with an explosive, Hollywood-esque finale, there are plenty of smaller clashes along the way too. One especially agile bit of choreography mixes a rough fight with moves to hide evidence, and there are nods to classic local action in a nifty office-cubicle update on past hall-of-mirrors sequences.
Plotting isn’t always as accomplished as the action, with some details whizzing by or falling away – not least when one hero shows astonishingly fast investigative skills to identify baddies. But fortunately the script is rarely dry, with good humour and cheeky one-liners dotted throughout, and all the right moves are taken to keep the action barrelling forward. Nick Cheung and Yang Zi make for an attractive duo, both fine in fierce fight scenes they’re flung into and with Cheung tackling the heftier role given its painful back story. Richie Jen offers a charismatic and menacing criminal role once his mask comes off, and his partners Feng Jiayi and Carlos Chan provide touches of buffoonery on the side.
When Bodies at Rest premiered in March at the Hong Kong International Film Festival, Renny Harlin spoke of an admiration for Hong Kong cinema that started in his youth. And in interviews he details the care taken in reworking the film’s initial Hollywood script for Chinese audiences, aiming to key in with regional tastes for humour and emotions onscreen in addition to fashioning all the fisticuffs. On that front it appears the efforts paid off. Even if much of the story is sealed off from the Hong Kong streets, Bodies at Rest still fits in neatly among the city’s high-end modern action thrillers.