Hong Kong

Review: Hong Kong Sci-Fi Movie “Detrimental” Befuddles With Bad Writing, Poor Execution, and…Great Production Values?

With its laughably inconsistent plot and confusingly selective use of CGI, "Detrimental" could be Hong Kong’s contribution to the "so-bad-it’s good" genre.

By , 22 Nov 23 05:17 GMT
Courtesy of MOVINPIX Company Limited.

The 2023 Hong Kong science fiction movie Detrimental is not merely mediocre. Admittedly, the film has excellent production values, and competent acting by its unfortunate cast. However, it is so badly written and poorly executed that it has the potential to become a cult film in the “so bad it’s good” genre, alongside other luminaries like 2003 American indie romance The Room or 2017 Taiwanese film Story of Taipei.

Detrimental’s science fiction setting follows a group of miners on a far-flung planet, who mine the rare metal “Attaca”. Many of these miners are ex-convicts. Others are blind, including protagonist Raven. In the meantime, many of the miners are followers of an older prisoner named Ghost and his lieutenant Scotch.

A sudden storm maroons the miners, and sets the film’s plot in motion. Awaiting rescue, the miners try to clear debris so that relief teams from company headquarters can land. However, as supplies dwindle during their wait for rescue, the miners begin to fight amongst themselves—especially when Scotch tries betraying them during a collective escape attempt. As it transpires, though, the miners apparently have more to worry about beyond themselves: an alien monster is also stalking them, and slowly killing off individual miners.

Courtesy of MOVINPIX Company Limited.

All this has the elements of a competent enough, if unoriginal sci-fi movie. Yet where Detrimental stumbles–badly–is by having a plot that seems to have been made up on the fly.

The film’s characterizations are radically inconsistent. One moment, Scotch gasses and kills a significant portion of the miners. In literally the next scene, the film attempts to rehabilitate him as a character who is rough around the edges, but fundamentally good at heart. It is never clear why exactly Scotch was motivated to kill a significant portion of the crew, and maroon them during their escape attempt.

Detrimental’s basic plot details don’t fare any better. Though the film mentions early on that ships sent by company headquarters will arrive “the day after tomorrow”, it makes no further mention of the ships—which is quite puzzling given the movie clearly takes place across several weeks or months thereafter. At various points earlier in the movie, the characters experience food scarcity, but this plot element disappears as soon as it seems inconvenient, with characters suddenly able to survive off of tree sap.

Courtesy of MOVINPIX Company Limited.

The film takes a bizarre shift into camp during its final act, which features the mining crew fighting the alien monster that has been stalking them. Suddenly, the film changes genres altogether into a hamstrung action drama. This plot shift highlights more absurdities. While the film initially presents Raven a blind character who has to navigate carefully by echolocation using a clicking device, by the end of the film, he is fighting the monster in hand-to-hand combat despite being blind. In another bizarre turn, the other miners, for some reason, all suddenly gain robotic arms to fight the monster–perhaps the director watched Japanese anime Megalobox and decided to randomly insert this element into the plot.

Even the monster’s characterization proves incredibly inconsistent. In one scene, the monster is about as strong as a human and can be warded off with an ax. By the film’s end, it can bend steel and needs to be fought using the robotic arms. Needless to say, only a deus ex machina can take care of the monster by Detrimental’s conclusion.

Courtesy of MOVINPIX Company Limited.

Yet, poorly executed films are a dime a dozen. What makes Detrimental exceedingly peculiar, then, is that it seems to have a high budget that it squanders due to lack of skill. The monster itself, for example, is depicted using high-quality CGI–though for some reason the movie seems to be constitutionally unable to make it interact in a realistic manner with live actors. Scenes in which the monster eats characters are among the most bizarre. The movie does not bother depicting the gore of being devoured, and instead suddenly cuts every time this occurs–perhaps due to lacking the special effects know-how for depicting such events

Despite its deficiencies, Detrimental is probably worth a view–precisely since its many gaping flaws are what makes it entertaining as a film. Who knows? Perhaps the movie could, in fact, one day become a rare Hong Kong science fiction cult film.

Detrimental (Chinese: 見怪)—Hong Kong. Dialog in Cantonese. Directed by James Hung. First released July 23, 2023. Running time 1hr 19min. Starring Wong Ho-shun, Shirley Chan, Kenneth Chan, Shun Lau. 

This article is also published in No Man Is An Island, an online publication focused on the connections between everyday life and politics. No Man Is An Island is brought to you by the team behind New Bloom Magazine.

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