You might think you’re seeing things, clicked on the wrong link, become a victim of the internet’s mysterious powers of redirection, but before you check your bookmarks and call your ISP, just let me say this: Push is possibly the most Cantonese film America has ever made. Surprised? I certainly was. I honestly wasn’t sure “it’s set in Hong Kong” was enough of a reason for me to go but I went, and actually, this is one film not so much borrowing from the plotlines of successful Cantonese action movies so much as it is from their sense of style.
Nick (Chris Evans, Sunshine) is a bit of a bottom dweller with a tragic past and a not-so-big secret; he’s a Mover. In a world where Cold War experiments in psychic abilities actually resulted in people with – gasp – psychic abilities, there are the people working for the government and there are the people running from the government, with obviously good reason. Nick of course is one of the second type, and when a young Watcher, Cassie (Dakota Fanning, Houndog, War of the Worlds), cons her way into his apartment with the promise of more than enough money to square his gambling debts, he already knows helping her out is a bad idea. It becomes a terrible idea once he finds out that all he has to do is save a girl the Division is trying to get their hands on, and it probably doesn’t help that Cassie’s precognitive abilities tell her they’re both going to die trying. By the time Nick finds out that the girl they’re trying to save is in fact his ex-girlfriend, it’s a situation that has gone past ‘terrible idea’ and moved well into ‘crazy and stupid’.
A number of themes – like the power of perception to make reality – are present in this film if you care to pay attention to them. They give a little depth and complexity to what might have otherwise been fairy floss, but the surprisingly strong in other aspects. Dialogue is sharp, the characters (all of them) get a stronger-than-anticipated treatment and there is genuine chemistry (of the big brother variety) between Evans and Fanning – whose performance is outstanding, by the way, and who has pretty much all the best lines. And what’s more, the movie doesn’t just look like a Hong Kong film; it feels like one.
It’s not just the gritty HK landscape, the presence of respectable Cantonese actors like Ming Na as Sniffer Emily Hu or the hordes of disposable street thugs and the Chinese restaurant gunfights (with a twist!) that give this film a more than faint Cantonese flavour though. The cinematography, by Peter Sova (Donnie Brasco, Good Morning Vietnam) echoes the vivid palettes and striking frame compositions of someone like Christopher Doyle, and Paul McGuigan’s direction gives these elements the lush, lingering treatment reminiscent of Canton’s arthouse master Wong Kar Wai. There are some lovely transition scenes – characters moving from one place to another – though hallways in tacky hotels and alleyways in downtown Tsim Sha Tsui set to some of the best soundtrack music you’ll hear in a film this season (no, seriously), and it’s so very Hong Kong cinema, it’ll almost make you feel nostalgic.
It’s a relief to realise that for all its strengths, it is at heart action cinema, and therefore balances some pretty cool fight scenes with some pretty glaring plot holes. Like, why the hell has the Stitcher got such a problem with Nick? And take it from me, don’t examine how the bait and switch is actually achieved because you’re just going to end up at ‘HUH?’. Possibly the tragedy in that is that with more time, such holes might not have been necessary. There’s a feel to the ending that screams more – as in, there’s more you’re not seeing, either planned for a sequel or on the editing room floor. It’s not quite enough to make you long for that Push 2 (would that be cleverly titled ‘Pull’?) but when all is said and done, you probably won’t mind that much. Push’s premise is interesting, its world convincing, its developments pacey and its characters engaging. It is exactly what it is, and what you went to see – an entertaining, better than average action movie. And really, in the end, isn’t that precisely the future you envisioned?