Cyber Heist (斷網, Wong Hing-fan, 2023)

A cyber security expert is forced on the run after being framed for money laundering while trying to engineer a brighter future for his seriously ill little girl in Wong Hing-fan’s high octane techno thriller, Cyber Heist (斷網). In true B-movie fashion, the film’s visualisation of the digital world has a distinctly retro aesthetic while the plot may sometimes lack internal consistency, but what the film does have is a series of tense action sequences many featuring the hero desperately running around carrying the super secret information in a tiny robot doll. 

Chun (Aaron Kwok Fu-shing) is cyber security expert working for a top Hong Kong firm which provides technical services for local banks. The problem is that they keep getting hacked as criminal gangs take down banking services to run a complex money laundering operation. As it turns out, Chun was once a cyber criminal who spent time in prison for selling viruses on the dark web but has since reformed after becoming a father. His little girl, Bowie, is suffering from a serious heart condition and is currently on the transplant list but dreams of one day becoming an astronaut. 

It’s Bowie who provides the moral centre of the film in her constant refrain of “What are you doing, Daddy?” which Chun seems to hear every time he’s thinking of doing something nefarious. Clearly possessed of immense power in his technical knowhow Chun battles with himself as to how to use it responsibily. When Bowie is turned down for a place at an elite school, he considers simply hacking into their database and changing her records but thinks better of it before getting her a place the old fashioned way, by agreeing to make a sizeable “donation”. It doesn’t really seem like that’s a lot better in the grand scheme of things but does perhaps hint at the low level of corruption that has already seeped into everyday life. In any case, it’s Chun’s desperation for the money after being turned down for a loan by his boss, Chan (Gordon Lam Ka-tung ), that makes him vulnerable to intrigue when previous patsy Frankie (Kenny Wong Tak-bun) is killed in a mysterious “accident” after laundering more money than he was supposed to and then depositing the excess in his regular bank account.

Chun agrees to help the authorities in the form of cyber crimes inspector Suen Ban (Simon Yam Tat-wah) but soon finds himself on the run when ultra corrupt boss Chan kidnaps his daughter. Chan is also trying to protect his younger brother who was left with brain damage after being beaten by thugs working for shady gangster Mr Pong (Andy Kwong Ting-Wo) and is clearly not above reprehensible behaviour. It has to be said that the film’s conception of the way online infrastructure works has a distinctly B-movie quality. At one point, Chun’s experimental AI virus ends up accidentally destroying the entirety of the internet yet nothing really happens except for people becoming very confused by their now useless phones, and then Chun is somehow able to make everything OK again by simply rebooting it. 

Likewise, the film’s visualisation of the cyber world is heavily influenced by mid-90s William Gibson as a kind of virtual reality metaverse where hackers walk around in cyberspace while wearing creepy clear plastic masks. The space occupied by the money launderers is verdant and green, a beautiful cyber forest, while that of the dark web is pure grunge, a space of urban decay filled with dank and half finished buildings and peopled by edgy guys in hoodies wearing hacker chic. Even so, there’s a kind of charm in the retro aesthetics of ‘90s futurism along with the concurrent suggestion that the offline world is inescapably duplicitous and true techno guys are the only ones to be trusted. 

In any case, the money laundering scam is a kind of MacGuffin as Chun becomes increasingly irate while squaring off against his opposite number, Chan, and trying to prove himself as a responsible husband and father by saving his little girl and catching the bad guy not to mention clearing his name by helping the police. An old-fashioned man on the run thriller, Wong’s breathless camerawork follows Chun all over Hong Kong as he fights for his life and family against those who value nothing more than money while desperately trying to live up to his daughter’s expectations of what a good man should be in a world that online or off is already far from fair. 

Cyber Heist was released in UK cinemas courtesy of Magnum Films.

Original trailer (Traditional Chinese / English subtitles)

Over My Dead Body (死屍死時四十四, Ho Cheuk-Tin, 2023)

As the opening voiceover of Ho Cheuk-Tin’s darkly comic farce Over My Dead Body (死屍死時四十四) points out, the world is already quite an absurd place. A lot of us know that it’s absurd, but somehow we just roll with it without really asking why. If you stop to think about it, it really is absurd to spend every waking minute scrabbling for money to pay a mortgage on a flat you barely occupy because you’re always at work, but at least it’s less absurd than living with the constant uncertainly of arbitrary rent rises and sudden eviction. 

At least that’s the way it’s always seemed to the residents of 14A Seaside Heights, a swanky apartment block with all the mod cons and a touch of European sophistication. Technically the flat is owned by Ms. So (Teresa Mo Sun-Kwan), though home to daughter and son-in-law Yana (Jennifer Yu Heung-Ying) and Ming (Wong Yau-Nam) plus their small daughter Yoyo and Yana’s paranoid brother Kingston (Alan Yeung Wai-Leun) who is in the process of launching a “brand” selling a special “stealth suit” that can make you invisible to surveillance cameras. The obvious fact is, the flat is far too small for all these people and Ming and Yana want to move out not least so they stop having to sneak around like teenagers to get a little personal time. 

They have each, however, suffered amid the precarities of the post-pandemic economy with Yana losing her job as an air hostess when the airline she worked for went bust, while Ming’s removals business has taken a serious hit and is unlikely to recover as Mrs So points out with so many people leaving Hong Kong due to the ongoing political uncertainty. The young couple propose mortgaging Mrs. So’s flat for the downpayment on their own which they’d be paying a second mortgage on, which is why it’s incredibly bad news when they discover the naked corpse of a random man propped up against their door. 

The film plays with a minor pun in which the word for male corpse sounds like that for “Blue Ribbon”, a name for pro-government supporters during in the protests, the implication being you wouldn’t want one of those turning up on your doorstep either. In any case, any idea of calling the police or an ambulance is quickly abandoned on realising the flat would become known as a “murder house” and dramatically drop in value. The only thing to do is drag the unfortunate man to a neighbour’s door instead and let them deal with it. This goes about as well as could be expected with the whole floor eventually involved in the plan to move the body until they eventually hit on the idea of dumping it on a rundown social housing estate where people often go to commit suicide because no one’s going to notice one more corpse and no one owns those flats anyway so it doesn’t really matter if they ruin their property value. 

It is an incredibly dark and cynical sense of humour, but in its own cheerfully absurd in all the farcical shenanigans trying to remove the body from the building with no one really stopping to ask how it got there in the first place beyond connecting it with the mad streaker the security guard has been desperately trying to catch. Ho’s previous film, stylish true crime drama The Sparring Partner, had similarly had an absurdist vein of dark comedy running underneath it but Over My Dead Body does eventually rediscover a sense of hope if only in irony as it leans in to a New Year comedy-style celebration of family and community as the neighbours find themselves having to work together to protect their property investments. Even the materialistic Mrs So is forced to reflect that actually she’s lucky to be able to feel tired and frustrated, giving her blessing to her daughter and son-in-law to move out, while they in turn reflect that maybe it’s not that bad if they have to stay a little longer. It might seem like an overly saccharine conclusion for a biting satire about the rabid capitalism of a status obsessed, consumerist society but then again as an equally cynical ironic twist reveals maybe the residents are the ones who haven’t quite woken up despite their newfound solidarity. 

Over My Dead Body opens in UK cinemas on April 21 courtesy of CineAsia.

UK trailer (Traditional Chinese / English subtitles)