16:00 - 10th November 2013, by David West


Li Yue (Daniel Wu) is at the end of his rope - literally. Despondent following the sudden death of his parents in a car crash and his wife's recent miscarriage, Li has decided to end his life. However, his attempt to hang himself in his apartment is interrupted by Chuck (played by Hollywood heavyweight Kevin Spacey), a wise-cracking, fast talking American who lives in the same building and who quickly inserts himself into Li's life. Inspired by his new friend, Li starts to question his reason for living and decides he has a new purpose - to fight corruption dressed as a superhero. With Chuck at his side, he sets out to find and expose corporate criminals, swindlers and unscrupulous tofu makers.

Dayyan Eng's film is an unconventional buddy comedy that touches on bigger issues about life in modern China. The script addresses Li's mental breakdown caused by personal tragedy combined with stress at work, looking at how China has embraced capitalism and consumerism - but not without a cost. Li designs prosthetic limbs for a living, but there is a design fault with a new flagship product, and his domineering supervisor Ms. Yang (Ni Yan) is pressuring him to cover it up as the company is about to go public. Combined with the upheavals in his life, Li is ready to snap under the pressure. Wu is sympathetic and likeable in the demanding lead role and has good screen chemistry with Spacey. It is startling to see a major US star in a Chinese production but, after a quick gag about his terrible Mandarin, Spacey's dialogue is in English.

Spacey has obvious charisma and gets all the best lines, insuring the scenes with Li and Chuck are always highlights. Fortunately, Wu speaks perfect English, so their bantering is very natural and never feels forced, the way it can watching Jet Li struggle in some of his English language roles. Beibi Gong plays Li's wife Pang, and, while her character doesn't generate the laughs the guys do, she handles the dramatic side of the story with style and provides a believable emotional grounding opposite Chuck's larger than life personality.

If there is one complaint to be made about Inseparable, it is that director Dayyan Eng occasionally fluffs up the odd sequence. For example, in a scene in which Li confronts a businessman selling fake vitamins, the director can't seem to decide if he wants to play it for laughs or suspense, and it ends up being neither funny nor very tense. But that's an exception rather than the rule. There is a major revelation about Chuck's identity in the first half of the film, but what makes the story hold its interest is how Li reacts to the discovery and the way their relationship develops afterwards. The ending is perhaps too convenient in terms of the plotting, but the exploration of the relationship between Li and Pang, and the different ways they have reacted to the loss of their baby, is much more interesting than the subplot about the prosthetic limbs anyway.

It would be easy to dismiss Kevin Spacey's presence as a gimmick but he really clicks with Wu: Inseparable is not a superhero movie, but a modern Chinese comedy with a strong dramatic core about someone falling apart.
SCORE: 4/5
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