“The Whistleblower” is a Sino-Aussie thriller with plenty of properly potent action beats, a generally engaging cast, a global chase involving wildly improbable escapes and a script rife with knee-slappingly silly plot details.
A tale of a global mineral megacompany covering up an environmental disaster, and thereby enabling disasters to come, it’s almost refreshing in the ways it wants to depict China as both innocent of the machinations of global capitalism, and a corrupt partner in it.
Lei Jiayin of “The Wandering Earth” plays Mark, the Chinese emigre who has made to the top of the executive ranks of the Aussie multinational GPEC despite the “Chinese glass ceiling.” Foreigners, he tells other Chinese characters in the story, don’t get to the very top of Australian firms, implying xenophobia.
Then he admits he never became a citizen and gives other hints as to where his true national loyalties lie and undercuts his own complaint.
Mark is unflashy, a plodder who gets stuff done, just the way his peers (John Batchelor among them) like it. His old school rival Peter (Wang Ce) is the flashy one, running the company’s underground coal gassification plant in Malawi, Africa.
Peter returns to a resort at Twelve Apostles (landmark Australian islets) to berate Mark publicly at a corporate retreat as someone whose “mind is never entirely on the job…Don’t be stupid! No mistakes!”
If it wasn’t for his supposed job security and the presence of an old flame, now married to the CEO of a Chinese firm about to partner with GPEC, Mark would be bummed. Siliang (Tang Wei of “Lust, Caution” and “Blackhat”) was his bey, back in the day. And on this night, they renew their acquaintance and their passion. No kissing, though.
She’s on a plane and gone in the AM, Mark heads home to the digital effects-creator wife (Qi Xi) and kid, and all is forgotten.
Only diabetic Peter has died in his sleep. That corporate jet Siliang and other honchos were on crashed. “What’s going on?” we wonder.
Not Mark. NoEven after Siliang calls him from a fleabag motel in the Melbourne red light district. Even after an assassin chases them into the night.
It takes Mark a LONG time to realize there’s something up with this company, his Aussie overlords, Siliang and her husband and that extract-gas-from-coal tech that we’ve seen cause a fiery earthquake in Africa in an early moment in the movie.
The reluctant couple, led by guilt-torn Mark, must traipse hither and yon to uncover the truth, recover her marital cash, expose the flaws in the technology and save the heavily-polluted (everybody wears filter-masks) coal-rich Chinese province of Lvhan from what happened in Malawi.
Mark’s wife? She is furious at Mark’s shame, which seems to be the biggest crime the movie truly wants to wrestle with.
They rely on “the best place to hide is a leaf in the forest” strategy — hiding out among sympathetic Chinese restaurateurs, friends and relatives in Australia’s Chinese diaspora.
The chases and escapes have their share of what I call “Bugs Bunny Physics” — leaning not just on insane coincidences, but humans and drones defying Laws of Motion and weight disproportions.
Some African scenes feature Africans with Australian accents (virtually all filming was done in Oz).
Money is a huge concern, and every corporate bribe and pay-off, every “Let’s stay under the radar” transaction that keeps the fleeing duo flush and enables their investigation, is paid for by check. See a flaw in that strategy? The writer-director didn’t.
The depiction of Chinese corruption, pollution and infidelity comes off as almost-refreshing, with so much of this film (in Chinese, with English subtitles, and occasionally in English with Chinese subtitles) funded and promoted as Chinese. Those are the sorts of things that have kept China’s greatest filmmakers and their more “honest” yet controversial works out of film festivals over the decades.
As I said, the action is fun. And the unintentional laughs from the plot lapses, check-writing and black-face — Did I mention how these two try to “pass” in Africa? — are almost worth devoting well-over two hours to “The Whistleblower.”
MPAA Rating: Unrated, violence, sexual content, profanity
Cast: Lei Jiayin, Tang Wei, Qi Xi, John Batchelor, Wang Ce.
Credits: Written and directed by Xue Xialu. A CMC release.
Running time: 2:14