J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Sundance ’17: Do No Harm (short)

The Hippocratic Oath is about to get a serious workout and the surgical scalpel will become a lethal martial arts weapon. She is truly a doctor who fights for her patients, but there is a special reason for her ferocity in Roseanne Liang’s Do No Harm (trailer here), by far the best film in the Midnight Shorts Program at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

In a private Hongjing hospital, the unnamed doctor is quietly stitching up a gangster, until a rival gang rudely interrupts. They nearly massacre the entire surgical team, but the doctor is tough to kill. Her patient is probably just a bad a thug or maybe even worse, but she will protect him no matter what, racking up a gosh darned impressive body count of her own.

Harm is a super-charged, ultra-gritty action movie in the tradition of hospital shoot ‘em ups like John Woo’s Hard Boiled and Johnnie To’s Three, but Liang averages considerably more mayhem per minute. As the doctor, Marsha Yuen instantly establishes herself as an action figure, but also has sufficient gravitas to be a trusted medical profession. If you were going under the knife, you would want her to be the one in charge of the operation.

The large supporting ensemble of gangsters also have impressive stage-fighting skills and project the appropriate malevolence. Young Emily Tam is also quite effective in her third act appearance. In fact, she and Yuen are so good, the ambiguous ending is rather frustrating. Hopefully, Liang will fix that in the feature version—because this is exactly the sort of short that seems ripe for a longer treatment. Regardless, the butt-kicking is highly entertaining and the credible performances duly reflect the dire stakes. Enthusiastically recommended, Do No Harm should be a cinch to turn up at genre festivals like Fantasia after rocking the Midnight Shorts at this year’s Sundance.

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