By Kai Curry
Northwest Asian Weekly
Mark Ma is a Chinese citizen in Australia, waiting for his residency, and working for a natural gas company called GPEC, when one night of infidelity at a company schmooze fest goes south (as these things tend to do). By morning, the Chinese VIP guests who GPEC had invited to the party in order to smooth a deal, are dead in a plane crash—including Ma’s lover, the wife of the CEO of the company that GPEC had been wanting to woo. Soon after, it is discovered that the GPEC representative assigned to broker the deal has committed suicide.
Now Ma, the only other Chinese person in the company, is given the uncomfortable, and even unethical, task of flying the remains to China and salvaging relations enough to get the Chinese CEO to sign.
So begins CMC Picture’s “The Whistleblower,” and if you think that was complicated, just wait.
The biggest Chinese-Australian co-created film made to date, “The Whistleblower” stars Lei Jiayin as Ma, and Tang Wei as Zhou, Ma’s ex-girlfriend and new complication (did I mention Ma is married and has a son?). Dubbed an eco-thriller, the movie centers around the cover-up of a natural gas explosion in Malawi, Africa, which was erroneously identified as an earthquake— a convenient error until dead people start multiplying, incriminating documents start surfacing, and people that were supposed to be dead, like Zhou, come back to threaten Ma’s marriage, and throw Ma into a James Bondian role for which he is surprisingly well-equipped.
It’s possible the movie has one too many twists and turns, yet they do serve to make us as confused as Ma, which might be a good thing—after all, why should we be able to easily figure everything out? The facility with which Ma and Zhou, and all of Ma’s friends, adopt the roles of super spies, while unbelievable, is achieved with such ease that we just do believe it.
For instance, how does Ma know to turn off the fan before he and Zhou jump into an air chute? How does he even know where the switch to turn off the fan is? How does he know there is a fan? I’m just saying. Yes, there are some typical bits. The bad guys always find them.
Tracking devices are left on innocent civilians in crowded marketplaces. CEO’s wives fall neatly from tall buildings into comfy piles of laundry sacks in the backs of moving trucks. Yet the movie is not as heavy-handed as many when it comes to its themes, and the white head of GPEC speaks pretty good Chinese—he could teach a few YouTuber’s a thing or two.
“The Whistleblower” is a study in good things coming to those who wait. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, you don’t. Just when you think it should be over, it isn’t, and the payoff turns out to be more rewarding than you imagined it would be at the start.
Directed by Chinese female director Xue Xiaolu, of “Finding Mr. Right” and “My People, My Country,” the film alternates between slick action and unexpectedly moving moments. The emphasis on family throughout the film is heartwarming, even when it’s being used as a threat. “Family is everything, Mark,” says one of the members of the evil corporation—so play along or we might take yours! The concern for the environment, which at first seems like just a trendy thing to make a film about, comes through as sincere and passionate by the film’s conclusion. It is also made very clear that one should not lie. Just don’t. Lying is bad. And infidelity, basically a form of lying, is definitely not good either. The way that the public and media respond in the movie to Ma’s indiscretion is on par with the explosion of outrage that happened when Hong Kong celebrity Andy Hui made out with actress Jacqueline Wong in a taxi.
Don’t break up families. And don’t mess with the planet. Nuff said.
But the gem of the film, in my view, was the incredible acting job done by Xi Qi, who plays Judy, Ma’s wife. Her responses when her husband comes home late with a bunch of lame excuses —more than once—her clenched-fist, dry-mouthed devastation when the truth about his cheating comes out, it makes your throat go dry. She is really what the film revolves around. Protecting what’s important. Not giving into temptation if it hurts others, be it sex or money. According to the press release about the film, director Xue is becoming known for her ability to combine “important social issues within the framework of a commercial crowd-pleaser.” This might be just the kind of ability needed in a movie maker these days, when important subjects do need to be raised, yet audiences also expect to be entertained by fast action and attractive visuals.
“The Whistleblower” does both. It delivers a conscientious message in a palatable package about integrity and seeing through what’s important, not just for today, but for generations to come. When Judy says, “I don’t know what the future holds, but everything we do now is for our conscience,” it hits you right in the feels. You know she is talking about not just her marriage, but also our responsibility to take care of nothing less than the continued existence of humanity. Before the final credits, there is an explanation of whistleblower laws around the world, including in China. The idea is that a person should be able to speak up about wrong-doings without being hauled through multiple car chases and shot at. But even better, the movie seems to tell us, is for everyone to do the right thing in the first place, for each other and for the planet.
The Whistleblower is playing now in cinemas in the Greater Seattle area.
Kai can be reached at email@example.com.