A diverging if disappointing affair…
Review by Neo: It is true that Buttonman is kind of original; after all, how many have you seen a movie that the focus is not on the actual killing, but rather the cleaning up act. Basically, you got Francis Ng playing the cleaner, the person who cleans up the crime scene so that the actual killers will be able to continue their act and hide under the eyes of the law. Buttonman tries hard to impress art-house audience by going the route not taken. The suspense is created, but whether it is maintained throughout, is totally another issue. Taiwanese director, Chien Ren Hao manages to engage and detach the audience at the same time. While I somehow wanted to finish the film, there is also this underlying feeling about it that makes the film uninteresting in an detached way. The shinning lights of this, is most definitely Japan-born, Taiwanese actress Terri Kwan who seems to be aging beautifully in her 30s and of course, the usual versatile display from the somewhat conflicted character in Francis Ng.
The film basically goes like this: Francis Ng’s job is to unbutton the shirt of the dead people in an attempt to clean up the killer’s act of crime. Ng becomes infatuated with the local prostitute played by the beautiful Terri Kwan. Essentially, it is a movie about Ng passing on his work and skills to an apprentice and showing the moral dilemmas of getting the job done and the basics of humane emotions.
Terri Kwan despite edging towards her mid thirties comes up with the goods with a sensual and beautiful display as the prostitute who is a product of its context. Her relationship with Francis Ng is well-timed chemistry and the manner she looked and chewed at her scenes is a joy to watch. By no means a fresh-faced talent, Kwan have been in the Taiwanese industry for a while, including starring in her acclaimed supporting role in Johnnie To’s Turn Light and Turn Right, which garnered her maiden Golden Horse nomination. Kwan have created a character with much more layer than scripted and along of her beautiful face, making Buttonman more watchable than it should be.
It is funny how I described Kwan’s performance over the lead role of Francis Ng. Ng usually sleepwalks through the majority of his roles in Mandarin, i.e. The Closet, Curse of Lola, Hand in the Hair, to name a few. So it is surprising that Ng manages to act here, and his coldness and affection at different times and situations are more than convincing to endure. Not his best performance by far, but adequate enough to make Buttonman more suspenseful and somewhat interesting divergence.
All in all, Buttonman starts off strongly, the killings are well filmed in terms of brutality of the situation and the affection between Francis Ng and Terri Kwan is chemically efficient. The problem lies with the actual script and the fact that nothing really ever happens. Luckily, the film got charged over by director Chien Ren Hao who seamlessly uses the show not tell principle in an over the top manner. At the end of the day, Buttonman is just barely watchable, thanks to Taiwanese cinema being more accessible than previous Ng’s mainland adventures. Still, Buttonman ends up trying too hard to please arthouse audience, when in fact there is not enough substance for that crowd, but then again, it is probably one of Ng’s better roles in speaking Mandarin and probably a rare chance to see Terri Kwan in top flight … (Neo 2009)
I rate it 5/10