Imagine this: You and two childhood buddies run a struggling hot pot restaurant located in one of the many caves under the Chinese metropolis of Chongqing. You’ve decided to expand and, since money is tight, you and your pals will do the excavation yourselves. Now imagine that you have accidentally burrowed into a nearby bank’s vault, which is stacked with bundles of unsecured cash.
Would your troubles be over?
Of course not. In “Chongqing Hot Pot,” whose plot follows that scenario, the hapless heroes find themselves competing for the loot, not only with a gang of animal-masked bank robbers, but with a loan shark and his goons. The three-way tussle culminates in a subterranean melee bathed in Tarantino-worthy quantities of blood.
Although its final act is brutal, this Chinese crime drama also has elements of farce and romance. It turns out that one of the bank’s employees is a pretty former classmate of one of the heroes, and had a crush on him in his junior high boy-band days. The letter she wrote him back then is treated as though it’s just as valuable as a duffel bag stuffed with stolen dough.
The story opens with a nifty bank-heist sequence, and then rewinds to the recent past by scurrying through the tunnel that leads to the eatery.
Too bad the action sags in the middle, and that director Yang Qing (“One Night in Supermarket”) never twists the plot in an unexpected direction. This may be the first big-budget Asian action flick ever set in Chongqing, but otherwise it’s on familiar turf.
Unrated. At Regal Rockville Center Stadium 13. Contains bloody violence. In Putonghua and Chongqing dialects with subtitles. 96 minutes.