The opening minutes here are disorienting to such an extent that it took me a long time to determine if I was watching an arty send up of gangster movie clichés or a pretentious film that failed to realize how clichéd it was (surely, those pregnant pauses couldn’t be meant seriously… could they?). It turned out to be neither, really, as it seems director Liu Fendou is presenting an idyllic romance in the opening reel only to undermine it as that relationship grows increasingly perverse and masochistic. As the film wears on, and an innocent young girl falls in with a group of conmen who force her to humiliate herself time and again, it becomes apparent that there’s not enough psychological depth here to sustain that decline. This means Ocean Flame soon starts to feel like a series of melodramatic reveals and shock effects.
While this shallowness means that this is a bad movie, it’s at least an entertainingly bad one. There are enough abuses doled out that the central relationship never has a chance to grow dull, and the lead performance from Fan Liao is pleasingly devilish, as if he was in on how much of a joke this all is. Monica Mok, who plays his battered mate, however, attacks her role with so much vigor and exteriorized suffering that you suspect that the movie supposed to be playing more seriously than it does. At best, this is a poor man’s Lust, Caution. It shares much of the same repulsive sexuality that marked that film, but while Liu Fendou has something of an eye, there’s none of the political or personal depth that elevated Ang Lee’s film.