Customs Frontline

World Premiere | In Competition | Closing Film


Guest stars:
Herman YAU, director
Erica LI, screenwriter
Nicholas TSE, actor


After a couple of mainland cinema excursions last summer with the thrillers Raid on the Lethal Zone and Moscow Mission, Hong Kong’s prolific and versatile Herman Yau returns to unleashing hometown mayhem in Customs Frontline.

When a container ship mysteriously turns up in Hong Kong waters, local Customs officers sail into dangerous international drama. After boarding the vessel, a team led by Cheung Wan-nam (Jacky Cheung) and including young hotshot Chow Ching-lai (Nicholas Tse) discover dead bodies of crew members and a huge cache of arms, including a valuable compass suited for use in a submarine.

The haul of weaponry, thought to have been swiped from Thailand, is carted off to a government ordnance depot for safekeeping. When Thai Interpol officers arrive for an inspection, the arms smugglers rush in – think of a small army of mercenaries with a tiltrotor aircraft to carry off the cargo. The raid results in casualties and shellshocked officers, causing a rapid escalation in response. Customs’ ports and intelligence branches, headed by Kwok Chi-keung (Francis Ng) and Athena Siu (Karena Lam) respectively, must work together and go international in catching the perpetrators.

The shipment appears to be linked to a growing conflict in Africa, where the republics of Loklamoa and Hoyana are at odds after one side’s forceful intrusion into the other’s waters. Chow and Thai agent Ying (Cya Liu) jet off to Loklamoa for an Interpol and World Customs Organization joint operation and get a handle on how arms dealer Dr Raw (Amanda Strang) is involved. The pair sense there’s a rat in Customs, while back in Hong Kong investigators pin down the local shipping firm that’s in on the deal. Once the full picture emerges of how the arms turned up and where they’re headed, high drama is in store in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour.

At their best, Herman Yau’s crime and action pictures are sharp, quick-moving entertainers packed with novel and ambitious set pieces. Bearing similarities to Yau’s earlier Shock Wave blockbusters but without the stakes being so dangerously high (Shock Wave 2 saw Hong Kong cops tackling a nuclear threat), Customs Frontline offers yet more high-concept action with Hongkongers in peril. A fresh approach comes with its change from police heroics – a theme no longer clicking with younger Hong Kong moviegoers – and instead focusing on the customs department. Yau zips through introducing the officers’ duties before he’s back to raising hell with border-hopping intrigue. Car chases, armed assaults and major maritime collisions all enter the picture as star and first-time action director Nicholas Tse works with Yau to keep things rough and gripping.

Writers Erica Li and Eric Lee also take pains to flesh out Customs Frontline’s characters.

Chow is supremely confident on the job, but is also an awkward loner who struggles with relationships. Meanwhile Cheung, whom colleagues admire for his kindness and hard work, privately faces mental stress. The breadth of characters calls for a strong, capable cast, and Yau has that with distinguished stars Jacky Cheung, Francis Ng, Nicholas Tse and Karena Lam, plus rising talents like Michelle Wai.

Bold action cinema with charismatic leads may seem down in Hong Kong’s film output these days, with young talents getting more attention with their far smaller productions, but with Customs Frontline Yau and his team do their best to keep the city’s famed flashy thrillers alive and explosive.

Tim Youngs
Film director: Herman YAU
Year: 2024
Running time: 120'
Country: Hong Kong
02/05 - 10:10 PM
Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine
02-05-2024 22:10 03-05-2024 00:10Europe/Rome Customs Frontline Far East Film Festival Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da UdineCEC Udine