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The Laundryman Is a Hitman Thriller By Way of Robert Downey Jr.’s Heart and Souls

By  · Published on June 27th, 2016

NYAFF 2016

It’s not easy being a hitman, or at least it’s not easy being this hitman. Greenfield (Joseph Chang) – not his name, except it kind of is so we’ll go with it – has been killing people for years, and the process hasn’t changed. He’s offs them, and the clean-up crew disposes of them in the company headquarters fronted by a working laundromat. It’s simple, efficient, and guaranteed not to leave any stains.

Greenfield’s problem though is that recently one more step has been added to his days. He kills, the bodies are disposed of, and then when he gets home the ghosts of the recently deceased are there waiting. They don’t speak, they just stare, and it’s freaking him out, naturally. His boss, A-gu (Tang Sui), needs him to regain his focus and sends him to see a psychic named Miss Lin (Qian Wan), “the hottest medium and exorcist.” She quickly discovers that they’re haunting him because they have unfinished business – namely finding out why they were killed and who ordered it – but as the pair digs into the business of the dead they find themselves targeted for a similar fate.

Director Lee Chung’s feature debut, The Laundryman, is a lively and inventive thriller that blends action, laughs, and the supernatural into a fun, albeit occasionally incoherent, watch. There are elements that work across its three genres, but there are just as many beats and sequences that fail to connect for various reasons.

The action consists of gun play, fisticuffs, and a few pratfalls, but the fight scenes are an oddly mixed bag. There’s one great fight late in the film as two female characters go at each other with speed and power, but the ones featuring Greenfield are strangely ineffective. The choreography is too precious, but worse, several of the slow-motion movements appear to simply be the actors themselves moving slowly. That sounds weird, I know, but the action slows as someone narrowly avoids a chop or a slice, and it’s clear the film isn’t slow but their body parts are. Even if that’s not the case – although I believe it is – Greenfield’s fights are filled with too many such stylistic flourishes that ultimately serve to neuter the effect.

The comedy is a bit more consistent as the film milks laughs early on from the appearance of the ghosts. Under his blankets, in his bathroom – they simply appear and stare, and Chang’s given the opportunity for some fun reactions. Wan has fun too in the “Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost” role as she bounces between dealings with the afterlife and with Greenfield’s bloody work ethics.

The supernatural elements are pretty straightforward, but the ghosts’ abilities and agendas seem to fluctuate. The things driving them to haunt Greenfield don’t always make much sense, and certain ideas of revenge seem more than a little convoluted.

That overly complicated aspect ramps up heavily in the third act as backstory is spilled onto the screen at an excessive rate. The exposition dump fails to explain much of what viewers may have needed explained and instead introduces ideas and themes that get little room to breathe and instead die a rushed death. Let’s hope they don’t come back in a sequel as ghosts with unfinished business.

The two leading ladies both do strong work with Wan bringing a poppy, comedic energy and Sui channeling an intense and powerful performance as a female small business owner. Chang isn’t quite as effective though as he plays things perhaps a bit too goofily whether he’s seeing ghosts or making them.

There’s fun to be had with The Laundryman as its energy and vibrant visuals keep you engaged, but the third act might just leave you wondering if they’ve lost your order.

NYAFF 2016 runs June 22nd through July 9th

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.