Operation Mekong (2016) review
Incredibly Violent and Highly Thrilling
On October 5, 2011, the Mekong River massacre occurred. Chinese cargo ships were attacked in the Golden Triangle, which is a territory that resides on the borders of Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, and Laos. The 13 crew members of those cargo ships were slaughtered while their corpses were discarded in the Mekong River. Shipping on the Mekong was temporarily shut down by China as a joint task force between China, Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos was assembled to investigate the deaths of those 13 fishermen.
The Golden Triangle, this “No Man’s Land,” is a safe haven for criminals where drugs and crime are without jurisdiction while the Mekong, also known as the “Hell’s Gate of the South,” connects all of Southeast Asia and is a perfect route to smuggle drugs in and out of the country.
Director Dante Lam’s (The Viral Factor, The Twins Effect) Operation Mekong is based on the Mekong River massacre. In addition to the massacre, 900,000 methamphetamine pills were also retrieved from the ships. The joint task force is an elite team of narcotics officers led by Captain Gao Ghang (Zhang Hanyu, Special ID, Bodyguards and Assassins). His team is assisted by an undercover intelligence officer based in the Golden Triangle named Fang Xinwu (Eddie Peng, Rise of the Legend, Tai Chi Zero). Their investigation unveils that the meth pills belong to the head of a drug syndicate named Naw Khar. Gao Ghang and his team focus all of their efforts on apprehending Naw Khar by any means necessary.
There are some ridiculous action sequences featured in Operation Mekong. Dynamic camera angles make each sequence even more exhilarating. The camera seems to be attached to the side of a car, the tail of a helicopter, or the under carriage of a boat in an effort to capture the action from a perspective you don’t usually have the opportunity to view this type of disastrous activity from. The destruction in the film is overwhelming. The mall sequence revolves around someone tearing through a shopping mall in a yellow sports car at top speed and demolishing everything in his way. Throw in an explosive car chase and a deranged boat chase and you have one incredible Chinese action thriller on your hands.
A perplexing thought is that Operation Mekong is very reminiscent of The Viral Factor, which Dante Lam also directed. While The Viral Factor is more disease-based in its storyline, the two films revolve around elite teams jumping from country to country to stop a greater threat. Both films also include heavy action and massive explosions, but that’s where the similarities end. Operation Mekong has bigger balls than The Viral Factor. Naw Khar has an entire army composed of children who do drugs, know how to use guns, and blow themselves up for the sole purpose of Naw Khar getting what he wants. Naw Khar has Scarface-syndrome as he lives on a never ending high established from the mountain of cocaine at his disposal while he considers himself invincible and untouchable. Operation Mekong showcases children getting shot and killed, which is something most films cut away from, do off-screen, or avoid altogether.
The film drags a bit in the middle as Gao Ghang’s team, whose codenames are all Greek deities, sets up a deal with Naw Khar’s henchmen as you’re stuck watching each step of the process. This leads to one of the most exciting segments of the film, but watching each member of the team tail a suspect, radio their results, and heavily breathe while they await instructions becomes tiresome. Operation Mekong is also a bit too melodramatic for its own good. The Chinese crime action film utilizes slow-motion during most of the heavy action sequences, which is fine but when it’s done to show a dog running through a field of landmines it’s a bit ludicrous. The dog’s name is Bingo and is considered a member of Gao Ghang’s team, but his mini story-arc concludes in a way that leaves you with your head in your palms even if you’re a massive dog lover.
Don’t bother keeping an ammo count or track of the number of wounds certain characters receive during bullet storms and gun battles. The last action sequence alone sees certain characters get shot in arms and legs multiple times and you lose count how many people dodge slow-motion grenades at the last second only to have bloody chunks of their bodies fall off from the explosion yet it doesn’t slow them down at all. Blood squirts and sprays into the air anyway whenever someone is shot. Think of a jelly donut being smashed or a ketchup packet being stomped on; that result is what occurs when one bullet collides with flesh. It’s fun if you like violent films, but you can laugh at it and see why it’s a bit absurd at the same time.
Operation Mekong is overly dramatic, crawls at an unbelievably slow pace when objects aren’t exploding or being shot at, and you have no investment in any of the characters since they’re so weakly developed. However, the extraordinary action sequences make the film a must-see and Eddie Peng demonstrates an amazing emotional range he hasn’t been able to showcase anywhere else. Dante Lam has orchestrated pure chaotic mayhem dripping with raw emotion and sloppy, crowd-pleasing violence.