By Dave B.
Operation Mekong (2016, currently on Netflix) is a Chinese action movie (loosely based on a true story) that’s centered on an elite counter-narcotics police unit. After Chinese civilians are executed aboard a cargo vessel on the Mekong River in the lawless Golden Triangle area (where Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar border each other) the unit is dispatched to capture the local cartel leader and his top lieutenants so that they can be put on trial in China. The team uses an array of advanced technology, tactics, and disguises in their attempt to infiltrate and dismantle the cartel.
Imagine if someone took the movie Bad Boys and combined it with Commando. That’s a fair approximation of the feel that Operation Mekong seems to be going for, most of the time. It’s apparently one of the Chinese film industry’s attempts to make a big Hollywood-style action flick. And it contains some interesting elements. From a cinematographic style perspective, it’s not bad. The shots are crisp, the action flows well, and the scenery of the Golden Triangle is the most beautiful that I’ve seen on film in years. I can understand why some people enjoy this movie. If you empty your mind and watch it, it can be entertaining.
But if one single, solitary thought enters your head, whatever magic the movie appears to have will vanish. It’s clear that the creative team behind Operation Mekong wanted to make a Hollywood-like blockbuster with "Chinese characteristics". However, they misinterpreted Tinseltown’s golden rules for mass-market success: keep the plot simple, keep the characters engaging. Operation Mekong does the exact opposite, with a plot that is so convoluted (exacerbated by the undercover work of the anti-narcotics force) that it’s impossible to tell exactly who is supposed to be doing what to whom at any given moment in the film. Combined with the film’s shoddy character development, and overly long interludes between action sequences, Operation Mekong’s efforts at emotional heft fall firmly flat.
Under other circumstances, I wouldn’t recommend this movie, but I have to admit, watching a Chinese facsimile of an American action movie was fascinating. Some of the more propagandistic and jingoistic elements that are present in American movies (but can be overlooked while watching them from inside the culture) are on bright display in Operation Mekong and it’s fascinating to get something of a view of how some in the world might view our American movies. For that change in perspective, I’m recommending this two hour long movie. It’s not great. It’s barely good. But it does JUST enough right that it manages to be slightly more entertaining and fascinating than it is boring and confusing.
I have no clue what I'm doing, but I'll keep doing whatever it is to the best of my ability.