Switch Review: Mega-budget spy thriller starring Andy Lau

The facepalm of the year. Mega-budget spy thriller starring Andy Lau astounds in how illogical, senseless and just plain terrible it is. Possesses some of those “so bad that it’s good” qualities, if you can deal with the 2-hour running time.

Senseless and inept, and we’re just getting started. Switch (Diep Vu Tuyet Mat) is a colossal waste of money (160+ million RMB!) disguised as a feature film. There are some moments of entertaining badness, but this is mostly terrible filmmaking. And evidence that we should all give Future X-Cops a second chance. Andy Lau stars as Xiao Jinhan, a James Bond-like customs agent who’s looking to reacquire the priceless 14th century painting “Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains” from the greedy bastards fighting over it. Douchey British arms dealer Roger steals one half of the painting from the Taiwan National Palace Museum, while Japanese smuggling kingpin Yamamoto (Tong Dawei in a hilarious white wig) targets the other half, currently housed at China’s Zhejiang Art Museum.

Periodic onscreen text tell us that an exhibition joining the two halves will be held in Taipei in a matter of days. If our heroes don’t protect or recover the whole painting before the deadline. The powers that be will presumably cancel the exhibition. Oh noes! Look in the dictionary and you’ll find this situation under “first-world problem.”

Yamamoto instructs femme fatale Wang Xueqing a.k.a. Lisa (Lin Chiling) to steal the China half, which is safeguarded by Chinese insurance agent Lin Yuyan (Zhang Jingchu), who’s also Xiao Jinhan’s wife – and by the way. She doesn’t know that her husband is a secret agent who’s basically doing the same work she is. Meanwhile, Jinhan gets busy wiretapping bad guys, staring at computer monitors and showing up at glitzy soirees to strut down the red carpet like Andy Lau (Luu Duc Hoa).

It’s at one of these opulent parties that Jinhan meets his new partner. Lisa, beginning a dangerous flirtation that’s supposed to be sexy but is more nonsensical than anything else. Yamamoto fumes at their connection because Lisa is his girl toy, and she also looks like Yamamoto’s dead mother(!). This love rectangle plays out as the film jumps from China to Japan to Taiwan to Dubai, with pauses to admire local architecture and revel in gloriously garish production design, which could be termed “Late Eighties Neon”. There’s also moderately entertaining action.

While Switch’s plot may seem workable, writer-director-executive producer Jay Sun makes it as uninteresting as possible. People switch loyalties, fake their deaths and occasionally act upset, but the filmmakers fail at making anything that happens worth caring about. Switch is very poorly made, from its routine espionage storyline and crappy visual effects to its uninteresting characters, awful dialogue and terrible editing. The story jumps from location to location with tiresome exposition, each scene punctuated by recurring establishing shots of the same buildings. Endless scenes of people eavesdropping or text messaging add to the tedium.

English language dialogue is an embarrassment even by early-nineties Hong Kong standards. And the Caucasian actors seem like recruits from the Expat Meathead Actors Union™. Storytelling is the pits; tension-creating plot twists are deflated limply, nobody behaves logically, and people move from point A to point B inexplicably. Production design is bizarre; Jinhan’s hideouts include a Fritz Lang-inspired cement number and a fake-looking swamp shack that comes with a little peasant girl, just because. Maybe she’s part of the stay package.

A common defense given to some bad cinema is that it’s so bad that it becomes good. That description certainly applies to Switch; despite the uninteresting story and plodding exposition, there’s enough WTF here to fill sixteen other movies. The nonsensical plot twists are a source of delight, plus Lin Chiling’s wardrobe changes are frequently nosebleed-inducing. Tong Dawei’s Yamamoto is entertainingly evil, as is his harem of assassins, who kill while rollerblading, swinging from the ceiling or practicing gymnastics moves.

Andy Lau is Andy Lau, meaning he poses handsomely – though thanks to Sun’s lousy direction. Lau’s charm comes across as smarm. Zhang Jingchu turns in the best performance. But she’s completely out of place because she’s the only one who acts well. Switch (phim hanh dong 2020) is a genuinely surprising piñata of cinema crap, and lovers of bad movies will have plenty of chew on. Unfortunately, it’s nearly two hours long. They say you can never have too much of a good thing. But too much of a bad thing that’s so bad that it becomes good? Eighty-five minutes is my limit.

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