93 minutes/Opens tomorrow / **
SINGAPORE - The story: Insurance salesman Mark (Daniel Wu) is blackmailed by a mysterious figure and is forced to do his bidding, including crossing some dangerous crooks. When he is captured by Devil (Leon Dai) and his men, he insists on telling his story to the big boss, Tiger (Simon Yam).
Control could well have been inspired by something like The Usual Suspects (1995), in which the protagonist weaves a mesmerising tale with a stunning twist at the end.
Unfortunately, scriptwriter-director Kenneth Bi (Hainan Chicken Rice, 2005) is clearly not in control of the material here which veers off course during the crucial denouement.
The film actually begins promisingly. Set in an unnamed futuristic city in slick shades of black and grey, it seems to be an Asian take on the cyber-punk sci-fi noir genre.
It is unusual enough to be intriguing, but apart from an excuse to use some computer graphics, the setting ultimately does not matter.
So what we are left with is the tale of a man forced against his will to follow the instructions of an auto-tuned voice.
Since the identity of the puppet master is shrouded and what he actually wants (money? vengeance? an advanced degree in puppetry?) is under wraps, it falls to the poor victim to keep us hooked on the story. Unfortunately, Daniel Wu (New Police Story, 2004) is not charismatic enough to reel you in from the get-go and make you care about what happens to him.
There is some curiosity over what Mark will be forced to do next but the stakes are never very high for the viewer.
The supporting cast of normally reliable actors do not fare well either.
Simon Yam (Eye In The Sky, 2007) appears to be slumming it in a hammy turn as crime boss Tiger while Kara Hui is once again an emotionally distraught mother, too soon after horror flick Rigor Mortis (2013). As the machinations get more laboured and more characters get pulled in - including Mark's old girlfriend Jessica (Yao Chen) - you begin to wonder how it will all be resolved.
There is more story-telling involved, and it might leave your jaw hanging - not from admiration, but from incredulity.
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