Moscow Mission

European Festival Premiere | In Competition


As someone who grew up watching Herman Yau’s low- to mid-budget Hong Kong films, it’s hard to believe that Yau has now become one of the most reliable big-budget action filmmakers in Chinese-language cinema. After blowing up significant portions of Hong Kong in action blockbusters like his Shock Wave series, Yau now blows up almost every type of vehicle imaginable in Moscow Mission, a hugely entertaining police procedural that is easily one of Yau’s slickest action films.

Moscow Mission is loosely based on the manhunt that followed the 1993 Trans-Siberian train robberies, among the most notorious crimes in the history of modern China. The series of robberies saw ruthless crime syndicates pull off daring and brutally violent heists on the K3 Moscow-Beijing train service while it travelled across Mongolia without security protection. The manhunt, which has already been dramatised in Michael Mak’s The Train Robbers (1995) and a 2018 TV series, saw the Chinese and Russian police collaborate on an operation of unprecedented scale to catch the culprits.

Yau’s largely fictional take on the story narrows it down to one particular gang led by Miao Qingshan (Huang Xuan), a villain so sinister that he would bash a stranger who told him to be quiet at a concert. Leading the team of Chinese police is Cui Zhenhai (eternal man’s man Zhang Hanyu), a tough-as-nails detective who is hell-bent on stopping Miao’s gang. The dense script by filmmaker Chen Daming (who directed the Chinese remake of What Women Want) also tosses in unwilling accomplice Suzhen (Janice Man) and Moscow black market dealer Vasily (Andy Lau, also the film’s producer), two peripheral characters who play pivotal roles in the manhunt.

What sets Moscow Mission apart from a typical police procedural are Yau and action choreographer Nicky Li’s wildly ambitious action sequences. There is a chase that literally sends cars careening through buildings, a heist that shows motorcycles speeding through giant underground sewers, a fiery stand-off in a train yard, and even a shootout that ends with a fighter jet – well, you’ll see what happens. Like the other two Herman Yau films in this year’s FEFF programme, Moscow Mission shows Yau finding ample room to play inside the strict boundaries of Chinese censor-approved law enforcement films.

These stories of good chasing evil may be hardly new, but what is refreshing is Yau’s constant pursuit to create large-scale action set pieces that challenge the ambitions of his well-funded Hollywood counterparts. What is even more impressive is Yau’s ability to use his 40-year filmmaking experience to execute these sequences on a much tighter budget than those of Hollywood action flicks.

Even though this is a full-fledged mainland China production with a mostly mainland Chinese and Russian crew, Yau brought on his usual Hong Kong collaborators in major behind-the-scenes positions, including cinematographer Joe Chan, editor Azrael Chung, composer Brother Hung and visual effects supervisor Felix Lai, as well as a Hong Kong-based post-production team. The fact that film professionals from a city as small as Hong Kong have the skills to pull off such a large-scale production is a testament to what the Hong Kong film industry is still capable of.

Kevin Ma
Film director: Herman YAU
Year: 2023
Running time: 128'
Country: China
26/04 - 9:00 AM
Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine
26-04-2024 9:00 26-04-2024 11:08Europe/Rome Moscow Mission Far East Film Festival Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da UdineCEC Udine