The Whistleblower first published by Sight & Sound, February 2020
Review: After a one-night stand with old flame Siliang (Tang Wei) – whose hotel bedroom is festooned with paintings of Salome and Medusa as (unheeded) warnings that this femme is very much of the fatale kind – Melbourne-based company PR and family man Mark (Lei Jiayin) finds himself embroiled in a cover-up by his own employers that could spell the deaths of millions back in his Chinese hometown. This brings a strange dynamic to Xue Xialu’s The Whistleblower (Chui shao ren), as the adulterous protagonist’s troubles at home run in parallel to his adventures abroad, falling somewhere between a domestic love triangle and a tri-continental thriller, with Mark all at once a middle-aged schlub and an improbable James Bond figure who is, in the final scenes, even more improbably cast by his son as the Dark Knight.
At the heart of The Whistleblower are corrupt business practises between Chinese and Australian energy companies – while the film’s own status as a Chinese-Australian co-production points to more harmonious relations. Yet despite some striking locations and Marc Spicer’s grandiose cinematography, the action feels drawn out and implausible, the scenes with Mark’s long-suffering wife Judy (Qi Xi) are melodramatic (the overblown score does not help here), the duration is indulgently excessive, and the Mission Impossible-style measures taken by Mark in the climactic sequence seem an unnecessarily elaborate stunt yielding fake, entrapment-based evidence that no serious court would admit. Closing text claims a didactic purpose for the film: to educate Chinese viewers in the value of whistleblowers. It is all a bit po-faced, in a film whose thrills derive from the corporate targeting of whistleblowers.
Synopsis: After sleeping with his ex Siliang, PR Mark struggles to make amends to his wife Judy, even as he is drawn into investigating corruption, cover-up and corporate murder by his Australian energy tech company, which is brokering a deal with the Chinese company whose CEO is Siliang’s husband.