Chinese director Xue Xiaolu’s new suspense/thriller ropes us in with intrigue, makes us stay for family

By Cale Holmes Source:Global Times Published: 2019/12/11 17:08:40

Poster for The Whistleblower Photo: Maoyan

An 8.1-magnitude earthquake that looks too much like an industrial accident strikes a peaceful Malawi village. The Whistleblower, directed by Xue Xiaolu, vividly starts the action without hesitation so we can build our world of corporate intrigue and unrequited love. We zero in on GPEC, the corporation closest to the disaster, as it takes charge in relief efforts. Senior GPEC employee Mark (Lei Jiayin from Peace Hotel) is taking charge of an Australian corporate retreat in place of Peter (Wang Ce), another employee supposedly running the GPEC's public relations charity response to the earthquake. 

Mark is surprised to see Zhou Siliang (Tang Wei from Blackhat), a former sweetheart married to a Hanmei Group CEO, about to sign a deal with GPEC to receive the company's UCG mining technology used in Malawi. Leaving the retreat, Zhou rushes to catch a flight to Sydney, which Mark learns has crashed once he lands in Melbourne after returning from China where he closed a deal with the Hanmei Group. According to the news, no one survived the crash, but Mark inexplicably runs into Zhou in Melbourne. 

Zhou takes a sympathetic Mark on a mission to uncover why her husband wants her dead and whether it's tied to Peter's demise after his attempt to blackmail the Hanmei Group. 

Several run-ins with hitmen, phone mishaps, and a marital rift between Mark and his wife Judy (Qi Xi from Long Day's Journey Into Night), establish characters and subplots which fuel the worry that maybe the film is setting itself up for too many loose ends, teetering on manufactured fault lines. The character Harrison (John Batchelor) is almost cartoonishly corrupt, especially when abducting Mark's son to a play-date with his own children as a not-so-casual threat, but his character is tempered by the seemingly measured GPEC executive, whose fluent Chinese but otherwise banal demeanor casts off immediate distrust.

Despite a shaky foundation, The Whistleblower lands on stable ground by the film's second act where Mark and Zhou end up in Malawi in an effort to learn more about GPEC's faulty coal extraction. The film's inspired tone picks up as we learn Zhou is not all she seems, giving Mark a moral dilemma that will change both of their lives forever. 

After revelations of the lead duo's whistleblowing efforts surface in the media, the stakes finally become clear and compelling. Scene after scene delivers a gritty, dynamic and heartful commentary on love, betrayal, honesty, social justice and public ethics. Xue also takes aim at the role often played by the media in welcoming or shunning whistleblowing. 

A surprise encounter in the third act begets one last tragedy before the truth is able to hopefully crack through corporate corruption and bring together a family to cherish what they can protect.

The story's tricontinental journey lends a much-appreciated spontaneity to a plot that pivots inconspicuously at times. But the overall natural pacing reflects the comforting vindication of filmmaking with a purpose and the jarring amazement at the suspense of whistleblowing. The film oscillates between romance, crime and thriller, but a dash of humor is laced in, emphasizing the raw and diverse emotions motivating the central characters in moments of peril. The financial consequences characters meet provide the authenticity needed to guide the viewer's hand into the world of The Whistleblower.

Tang's performance illuminates the screen, demonstrating the flawed but caring nature of the human spirit, while Lei offers us a well-played common hero giving his own definition to courage and redemption in the era of mass media.
Newspaper headline: ‘The Whistleblower’

Posted in: FILM

blog comments powered by Disqus