Limbo - One Of 2021's Best Asian Films... So Far

A gritty, realistic Hong Kong crime noir thriller, beautifully presented in Black and White. This could be the movie of the year.
Director Soi Cheang
Starring Gordon Lam, Cya Liu, Mason Lee, Hanna Chan
Alternative Names 智齒

Who love gritty Hong Kong Category 3 movies? Well you’re in the right place!

Taking heavy inspiration from classic noir films, Hong Kong director Soi Cheang has created what could be one of the best, if not the best, category 3 movies we’ve seen in a long time.

What’s this movie about?

A serial killer is on the loose in Hong Kong, cutting off the left hands of some of societies most vulnerable and forgotten about women and dumping their dead bodies days later under piles of rubbish.

Detective Cham, and rookie cop Will, are set to investigate this series of crimes when they come across a woman called Wong who has a strong, sordid past with Detective Cham. Unbeknownst to her, she holds the key to solving the case.

My Thoughts on this Movie

Gritty, powerful, uncomfortable, brutal. These are just some of the adjectives I would use to describe this film.

It was a bold move from the director to present the film in black and white, but just like Zhang Yimou did back in 2018 with the excellent film Shadow, it works in the movie’s favour. It has allowed him to play with the composition of the scenes, to hide clues in the frame and to mask the obvious CGI used throughout to the point where it blends in so perfectly you’d barely notice it.

It also makes it a pleasantly uncomfortable film to watch. I know that sounds like a contradiction, but the movie is so compelling and so interesting that it hooks you in from the moment it begins.

And while there is a lot digital compositioning going on in this film, the cinematography on display is terrific. Excellent tracking shots, fluid movements made possible with a combination of drones and CGI and interesting framing. The skyscrapers of Hong Kong, signifying the ‘normal’, frequent the background shots where they a juxtaposed with the characters and gritty elements of this film.

It makes for an interesting, if usually unseen, view of Hong Kong.

But it doesn’t stop there. The use of the weather is a key indicator of emotions within. The howling gusts of wind towards the end, followed up with the almost monsoon like storm washing away everything. The visual imagery is this film is some of the strongest you’ll ever see.

However, a movie like this is nothing if the characters are not interesting. And in Limbo, we have some of the most interesting characters you’ll have seen in a modern Asian thriller.

Veteran actor Gordon Lam heads up the film as Detective Cham, a broken yet dedicated police officer who is desperately seeking vengeance and justice for a past incident. In a career that’s normally cast him as a supporting actor alongside the more bigger names of Hong Kong cinema, he has his opportunity to shine in the leading role, and he spends no time reminding the audience why he is such a versatile, if underappreciated, actor.

But the real highlight of the movie is mainland Chinese actress Liu Yase as the informant Wong To. In a stunning performance, she gets beaten, assaulted, abused and left for dead throughout the film. Her character is on the path of redemption, but the road for her to get there is very much firmly based in hell. Liu was also in the excellent Hong Kong drama I’m Livin It, and this title just adds to her strong, impressive catalogue of Hong Kong films.

There is a vital clue in the movie’s Chinese title, which translates to Wisdom Tooth. Once you’ve seen the film, you’ll know the importance of this, but it’s a curious example of where a title in Chinese is perfect for a local audience, but confusing for an international one.


Everything comes together in this film. The story, the ending, the composition and the acting all blend together with impressive directorial work, slick editing and effects that don’t overshadow the overall production, but enhance it.

Like most thrillers, there are parts of the film, especially the ending, that you’ll work out early on. But none-the-less this could be one my favourites of 2021 so far. A huge thumbs up.