A cocky band of security guards find themselves on the back foot when they’re ambushed by gangsters and one of guys decides to hightail it with the loot in Ying Chi-Wen’s anarchic take on Taiwanese movie Treat or Trick which was itself inspired by the Korean film To Catch a Virgin Ghost. A Lunar New Year release, Everything Under Control (超神經械劫案下) is a typically anarchic affair full of zany nonsense comedy and random gags but is ultimately a redemption story and a defence of community.
Possibly in a nod to mainland censors the “heroes” are now private security officers rather than actual policemen and have a rather cynical view of their work. The cocky Yau-shing (Hins Cheung King-Hin) who wears sunshades and talks a big game, laughs at rookie recruit Penguin’s questions about about a possible ambush explaining that, in a slice of dark humour, you’d need to rob around 10 convoys before you could afford a Hong Kong flat so it’s not worth the risk nor the effort. Nevertheless in what seems to be at least in part an inside job, the gang are indeed ambushed by gangsters working for Boss Lai (Juno Mak) while transporting diamonds across town on the behalf of an elite tycoon. When Penguin unexpectedly fights back, fellow guard Jelly decides to snatch the diamonds and run with a view to starting a new life in Malaysia. Boss Lai is understandably unimpressed and orders his underling, Monk, to accompany Yau-shing and Penguin as they attempt to track down Jelly and get the diamonds back while he holds their friend Pig Blood hostage as collateral.
After swerving to avoid what seemed to be the ghostly figure of a young woman in the road, Jelly ends up in a weird village with its own theme song that he has to bribe his way into. His presence is definitely unwelcome and the villagers’ behaviour is undeniably suspicious even in their weird hippie commune aesthetic though the diamonds themselves become something of a MacGuffin as a battle begins between the security guys and the villagers who are understandably keen to defend their territory from incursion especially as it seems there may have been an attempt to force them off their land. “Everyone has something they want to protect” according to weird village chief Wong Cool (Ivana Wong Yuen-Chi) whether it be like her her community, diamonds, status, or the lives of friends though truth be told that doesn’t seem to be at the top of Yau-shing’s list, poor Pig Blood more or less forgotten about by everyone.
Nevertheless, Ying amps up the weirdness in the quirky village with its rumours of a vengeful ghost who kidnaps “virile men” and gives them what otherwise seems to be a strangely childish punishment adding a note of creepy horror to the guys’ predicament. Penguin even comes to the conclusion that he has psychic abilities and is able to read a crime scene with the power of his mind, committed to the pursuit of justice but also endearingly dim. Monk, meanwhile, is some kind of cinephile gangster who is mocked by his mother for not being a “real man” because he’s never been to a film festival. The guys’ car radio also seems to be permanently tuned to an entertainment program where they offer acerbic comments about the Hong Kong film industry. After a while, we might wonder if we too are being affected by the purple sporing plants found all over the forest which cause Jelly to have a weird fever dream involving a kappa, a Nian beast, and the apparently well-endowed Goddess of Fortune who insists he say “Gong hei fat choy” despite it not being New Year in the movie even though it obviously is to the audience.
As the radio host admits, redemption doesn’t come from outside forces but by one’s own moral character which explains Yau-shing’s final change of heart, dropping his cynicism and deciding to believe in a better world after all. “Serve with our hearts, protect with our lives” it says on the outside of their van, and Yau-shing may have discovered something worth protecting while the diamonds remain more or less forgotten along with Lai’s ultimatum and Pig Blood’s fate. Decidedly strange, Ying’s genre hoping crime caper strays into some dark corners of human activity but maintains a lightness of touch along with genuine heart even as it does so.
Everything Under Control was released in UK cinemas courtesy of CineAsia.
UK trailer (English subtitles)