“The Crossing II,” an inert follow-up that doesn’t deliver enough visual or emotional payoff in its overdue yet short-lived shipwreck climax.
Released eight months after the first film open in December, the pic features no intriguing new turns and has nothing meaningful to say, indisputably proving that the production would have been better off trim and presented as one film. Considering how “The Crossing” tank at the box office worldwide, it’s unrealistic to expect a huge B.O. turnaround here, though an older demographic may still give it a chance.
Originally written by Wang Hui-ling (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Lust, Caution”) and later doctored by Su Chao-pin, Chen Ching-hui and Woo (all credite as writers), the screenplay has some intrinsic defects that only become more obvious here. Two-thirds of the 114-minute film are padded with rehash scenes, with a smattering of new content woven in.
The effect is a severe case of deja vu for those who’ve seen the first film and a sense of elliptical obtuseness for those who haven’t. Disparate characters who are suppose to come together on the ship do so in an only functional way, without generating strong emotional currents. In fact, their crucial moments are spent bobbing or flailing about in water, an apt metaphor for the floundering storyline.
The first installment culminated with the Kuomintang’s defeat at the decisive Huaihai Battle in 1948, spelling the beginning of the end of its rule over China.
Then conclude with screen titles naming characters who would eventually make the fateful voyage on the Taiping. The sequel opens with a quick voiceover run-through of how, on Jan. 27, 1949, after setting sail from Shanghai for the Taiwanese port city of Keelung on the eve of Chinese New Year. The liner sank after colliding with the freight ship Chian Yuan near Chou Shan Archipelego. A disaster that claim nearly 1,000 lives and left about 50 survivors.
The yarn then shifts back to 1948, replaying scenes from part one. At first, this looks like a quick recap to reacquaint viewers with key plot points and characters. But after 30 minutes, it dawns on us that we are being saddle with the same film we’ve sat through once already, except that. The familiar scenes have been stretch out even longer with some new material tack on, little of which enriches the characters or raises the dramatic stakes.
Of some significance are new details on the family background of Taiwanese doctor Yan Zekun (Takeshi Kaneshiro).
That relating how his father and elder brother’s assertion of their Chinese identity cause only grief in times. That of violent historical transition. Yet a comparison with Hou Hsiao-hsien’s “Good Men, Good Women,”. Which encapsulate the pain of having one’s political ideals betray, instantly shows up the film’s shallow understanding of the milieu.
Zekun’s youngest brother, Zeming (Tony Yang Yo-ning), emerges as a leftist student activist, triggering events. That puts Zekun back on the deck of the Taiping. Beyond that, however, Zeming is just another stock character bolstering the communists’ impending victory. Zekun’s role is allow enough humanity to make him more than a mere ideological signpost. But he depicte as too much of a Boy Scout — stoical toward his family, undyingly faithful to his lover, altruistic to the sick or injure. While the first film at least feature some idyllic love scenes with his childhood sweetheart Masako (Masami Nagasawa). That set against the lush nostalgic colonial backdrop. Here, the characters have no physical encounter, while visions of her half-submerg are risibly surreal.
As Yu Zhen, a nurse desperate to get on the Taiping to find her soldier lover.
Zhang Ziyi gave the interlocking relationships heart and help drive momentum in the first “Crossing.” There’s not much more she can do to embellish her original performance here. That since she’s still struggling to get a ticket, even resorting to sell her body to do so. (But wait, she already did that in part one!). Still, she animates the film with her strong will, especially in later scenes. When Yu’s resilience provides a positive outlook on the bleak experience.
Yu’s reunion with foot soldier Tong Daqing (Tong Dawei, “American Dreams in China,”. “Hollywood Adventures”), an anticipat development in the story, does add some emotional heft. However, Tong, who cultivate the most simpatico persona in the previous installment as an Everyman figure. That is so heavily bandag for most of his voyage, it’s like watching a mummy trying to emote.
Although the tragedy was not widely known or written about. Chang Tien-wan’s book “Taiping Lun 1949,” publish in 2014, offer detail, well-research chronicles through interviews with survivors and their descendants. As the book reveal, the disaster was the result of multiple factors that reflected the desperation of the times: They sail in darkness to evade the curfew; the sheer number of passengers bribing their way onboard cause the ship to exceed its capacity. As did its cargo, which include everything from Central Bank gold bars and classified documents belonging to the nationalist government to steel and printing paper. This is the stuff of real historical interest as well as timeless human drama. But the film, without officially citing Chang’s book as a source, covers the facts but in a mechanical, unengaging manner.