OVERHEARD 3 (PG13)
Thriller/130 minutes/Opens today
The story: Against the backdrop of property dealings in Hong Kong's New Territories, a tale of greed and vengeance unfolds. Jau (Louis Koo) grows up with the thuggish Luk brothers, including Keung (Sean Lau Ching Wan), the right-hand man of the powerful Uncle To (Kenneth Tsang). He kills a major landowner in a car accident for To, who pays him off. Five years later, Jau is released from prison and plots an elaborate surveillance operation to take down the Luks with the help of expert hacker Joe (Daniel Wu).
Same concept, different story.
Writer-directors Alan Mak and Felix Chong of Infernal Affairs (2002) fame team up for a third surveillance thriller.
Overheard (2009) and Overheard 2 (2011) featured the same key actors - Sean Lau Ching Wan, Louis Koo and Daniel Wu - but as different characters.
After all, to get overheard again on the part of the same perpetrators would simply be too much carelessness. By the third instalment, though, the idea is getting a little stale.
And the three leads seem to be shuffled from role to role in each film as though they were playing some kind of musical chairs. The first instalment remains the most compelling.
Not only did the concept seem fresh then, but the film was also anchored by the dependable Lau as its moral centre.
In the less tightly knit Overheard 2, the focus shifted to Wu as he sought vengeance for past wrongs.
Somewhat confusingly, Wu again plays a tech-savvy character named Joe here, though the centre of the piece is now Koo.
Released from jail after five years and now a cripple, Jau is plotting to take down the crooked Luk brothers.
He is driven by a mix of motives, including a thwarted romance with another Luk, Michelle Ye's Yongyu.
Add Kenneth Tsang as an imperious patriarch, Huang Lei as a wily businessman and Zhou Xun as a character linked to Keung and Joe, and it is little wonder many of the characters seem underwritten.
The story of title grants and unscrupulous property developers with their bullying tactics is actually interesting enough to stand on its own, and there is a poignant lament about the cost of development and the debasement of land.
But since this is part of the Overheard series, there has to be a surveillance element worked into it.
The complicated web of relationships and land dealings plus the high-tech electronic monitoring make Overheard 3 feel overstuffed and underwhelming.
This article by The Straits Times was published in MyPaper, a free, bilingual newspaper published by Singapore Press Holdings.