Director: Yoon Hong-seung
Writer: Zha Muchun
Producer: Jackie Chan
Cast: Yang Mi, Wallace Huo, King Shih-Chieh, Liu Chang, Hummer Zhang, Anita Wang, Zhao Shuting
Running Time: 106 min.
By Paul Bramhall
While Mainland Chinese blockbusters continue to grow in budget and scope, the actual talent behind them frequently proves to be poorly prepared to create a coherent piece of filmmaking. In perhaps as close as a sign of acknowledging this problem as we’ll get, Korean director Shin Tae-ra was brought on-board to handle 2016’s bombastic action comedy Bounty Hunters. While Tae-ra’s involvement arguably resulted in no difference when it came to the final product, Bounty Hunters must have been successful enough for the concept of bringing a Korean director in to make a Chinese movie to be considered a good one. So that brings us to 2017’s Reset, which has Jackie Chan of all people in the producers chair, but otherwise has an almost 100% Korean crew working behind the camera, and was shot in Busan.
The man in the director’s chair is Yoon Hong-seung, who more popularly is simply known as Chang. This marks his first time directing a Chinese cast, in a movie made for a Chinese audience, however on local soil he directed the 2008 high-school horror movie Death Bell, and was also responsible for the Korean remake of the French movie Point Blank, in the form of 2014’s The Target. Reset has a record breaking budget for a Chinese and Korean co-production, and considering its science fiction genre leanings, it’s encouraging to see a suitable level of investment has been put into it. Sci-fi, more than any other genre, has always been a tricky beast within Asian cinema. Most recently Korea gave us the poorly received time travel flick 11 AM, which features a number of similarities to Reset, while China gave us the likes of the Collin Chou starring Ameera. If you’ve never heard of it, there’s a good reason for that.
The plot of Reset could probably best be described as Connected meets The One. Popular Chinese actress Yang Mi takes the lead role, who must hold some kind of record for featuring in a total of 18 movies in 2012, as a single mother who’s on the cusp of creating a time travel machine. It’s explained that the machine works by sending the subject into a parallel universe, which represents the events of the past. Or something like that. However when her son is abducted by Taiwanese actor Wallace Huo (who’s looking more and more like a clone of Aaron Kwok), who wants to steal the research on the machine, she takes the chance to use it on herself, and go back in time to save him. There are of course several catches along the way, the first being that the furthest back in time anyone can go is 1 hour 50 minutes, and the second being that any live matter that goes through the machine starts to experience DNA instability a few days after using it.
Interestingly both Yi and Huo have featured in Chinese remakes of Korean movies previously, with Mi taking on Kim Ha-neul’s role in the 2015 remake of Blind, titled The Witness, and Huo taking on Son Hyun-joo’s role in the 2016 remake of Hide and Seek, which used the same title. So it’s perhaps ironic that they now both feature together in what’s essentially a Korean production made for Chinese audiences. Notably this isn’t the first time for producer Jackie Chan to get involved in the Korean side of things either, as in 2014 he put together the K-pop boyband group JJCC, who are still active and Chan is said to personally manage.
Things get bombastic pretty quickly in Reset. From the moment Mi learns that her son has been abducted, she begins to act like a fish out of water, literally. Staggering about, constantly falling over, and walking into anyone and anything that’s within a 5 meter radius. Clearly she’s a desperate woman, and events build up in a way that result in there being three versions of Mi populating the same timeline. These can be broken down as 1. The stuck in the lab facility original Mi, 2. The running around the city trying to save her son Mi, and 3. The dark and brooding, looks kind of evil Mi. As an actress there’s no doubt it must have been a lot of fun to play the different roles, and we even get a recreation of a scene from Bullet in the Head with the three Mi’s thrown in for good measure.
However Reset quickly begins to derail once the actual motive behind the sons abduction is revealed. After establishing a concept which, while it’s been done before, at least provides a unique slant on the usual tropes that action movies are based on, the feeble reasoning that’s given for everything that’s taking place is a frustrating one. As a result, Reset almost immediately feels reduced to a Mystery Science Theater 3000 B movie, which is a shame. There’s also a completely unnecessary scene thrown in that has Wallace Huo explaining the tragic reason behind why he decided to become a bad guy. I can only assume this must have been required to appease the Mainland China censorship board, as the scene has no relevance to the rest of the plot, and seems to only exist to make us understand that hey, this guy isn’t really all bad.
There’s also an unfortunate lack of restraint in the visual effects. It’s revealed that the building itself is an integral part of the time machine, visualised as an isolated structure on its own island and featuring external elevators, it seems to have taken a few ill-advised notes from the Sky One tower that Ringo Lam’s Sky on Fire took place in. While the constant presence of holographic screens (and their obligatory chirpy sound effects), and the process of the time travel journey itself, are well rendered and look good onscreen, the use of CGI in the action sequences doesn’t fare as well. At one point two hummers crash into a shipping container that’s being partially lifted onto a ship, and both the hummers and the container are all CGI. The problem is the CGI is replacing the real hummers and container that were onscreen just a few seconds before, and the disparity is glaring, effectively ruining the climax of the scene.
The score also proves to be a source of frustration, as it frequently builds to a climatic crescendo, leading us to believe the scene is about to close, only for it to then start again a moment later as the scene in question drags on. The perfect example of this is when Mi decides to use the time travel machine. One shot slowly pans down the cylindrical mechanism above her head as the score builds up. It then stops for a brief moment, focuses on Mi, then the shot pans back up the cylindrical mechanism, and the score starts again. The only effect such musical editing has is to make the audience wish for the scene to hurry up and get on with it, as it gives the impression that the time is simply being padded out.
Director Chang does make some interesting choices along the way. There’s a completely random homage to The Shining thrown in that somehow works, and the ability to plant a mini-bomb under someone’s skin reminded me of a similar technique that’s used in Mission: Impossible III. However, the more Reset progresses, the more you begin to get the feeling that almost everything that happens in some way is a reminder of when something similar happened in another movie, but done better. As I mentioned the sci-fi genre has always been tricky to tackle in Asian cinema, and here it seems to at least partly indicate that this is due to a lack of original ideas. It’s ironic, considering that out of all the genres out there, science fiction is the one that provides the most scope for imagination, but there’s not much on offer in Reset that won’t make you feel that you haven’t seen it before.
As the credits roll on Reset, complete with a silly added on scene of Mi and her son living in a mobile home, there’s a distinct impression that China still has a long way to go when it comes to making a blockbuster that won’t be forgotten a few hours after watching it. Either because the viewer wants to forget it, or that it simply didn’t leave much of an impression to warrant remembering. Reset is somewhat of a mixture of both, in that it started with a strong concept, however as it progresses it becomes clear that the ability to put a story together around that concept was half baked at best. The good news is that if ever a machine is invented that allows us to go back 1 hours 50 minutes in time, that’ll be just the right length to make the decision to not bother watching it again.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 5/10