PUSH is set in Hong Kong, which is hugely in its favor, and allows the nature of Hong Kong to decide scene shots and plot development. Hong Kong is more than a setting choice, though. The director lets Hong Kong seep into this film, with a colorful multi-racial cast, while crowds crowd the scenes. The movie is about people with psychic abilities running from the government, which wants to bottle and control them. It’s like the X-Men without costumes or hero complexes. They are truly ordinary people who are lost among the crowds of humans living in the cities. Some can “push” a thought into your mind, some can move objects, some can see the future, some can sniff out the past, some can make you think one thing looks like another. But there are only a limited number of things a psychic can be in this movie. And having powers do not make them invincible.
It’s a seek-and-find/chase movie, but the characters have strong motivations of their own. I found the first three scenes a bit hard to follow at first. Listen carefully to the opening credits of the film when Dakota Fanning narrates a huge info-dump. This will set up the whole movie. I usually HATE info-dumps, but in this case, you are hitting the ground running, and you need this info. This is not an easy film to watch, but it is rewarding. If you can make it past the first three or four scenes without turning it off because you have too many questions–then your questions will be answered as you go.
Characters who might have been cyphers in a bad movie, actually have pasts—which is nice. I felt as if all the characters had met in a previous movie somewhere and so they knew each other, had past interactions. They didn’t get scripted for this movie only…. and with any luck, there will be a PUSH 2.
There are clever moments in this movie, choices made by characters who are reacting to the choices of others. It feels as if the characters are making up the plot as it happens instead of a heavy-handed writer. The last third of the film is incredibly clever, one choice after the next, and it gave it a Heist-plot feel, where the Oceans Eleven crew are going to do a caper. Yes, these are people who have superpowers but they are being followed and are in danger from other characters with better superpowers. Superpowers in this film doesn’t equal wealth or control. And that’s refreshing. In Hong Kong there are no Reed Richards, super millionaires, who live off their powers, and these powered-people are not heroes, really. They are trying to survive, and help each other.
Now I want to get back to that directorial choice to set this in Hong Kong. In an online interview, McGuigan talks about Hong Kong, about heroes-genre films and what he wanted to do with that kind of film:
And then I thought about the whole genre aspect of it and, you know, we’re up against big movies because of The Dark Knights and I call it the Tin Man, but what’s it called? Iron Man? (laughs) You know, those were great movies and I thought to myself that the only reason I would do a film like this would be if I could do it the way I want to do it. An important part of my decision making was to have a strongof how I was going to shoot it. Decision making, i.e., do I want to do this movie? And I said, this is the way I would want to do it which was all kind of handheld and use a place like to its full advantage. And, also, it’s the first time I’ve actually worked in a country or a city that I was actually in that country and that city. It’s like that film logic where you say, “Well, this looks like New York” and you’re in the middle of…it could be anywhere, in Scotland or something, just because it makes more sense financially, but it was actually great that they wanted to shoot it in Hong Kong.
…Usually what happens is that when you make a movie, you see a street scene and you walk and you see the street and you take a picture because you’re on location. And then you go, “Okay, we’ll put in our own people. We’ll take everybody off the street and we’ll populate it with our own people.” You can’t really do that inHong Kong. I mean, one, we can’t afford that amount of extras and two, it’s not as interesting. So, we basically had to let Hong Kong dictate how we worked which was nice and essentially how I like to work, but sometimes you don’t want people to muck with the camera, you don’t want people to look in the camera, so the idea was we had these and then what we would do is we would shoot a master shot and then we would punch in if we had to or felt we needed to, and then we would populate it with our people afterwards. So, it was a bit of both but for shots, and that’s why it looks quite an expensive movie because we were smart enough to use the location and we were fortunate enough to be able to use the location because we weren’t shooting Hong Kongfor New York. (laughs)
Doing it his way, he layers in slower scenes, develops character, layers it with music. This film is visually beautiful, with fewer special-effects to carry the superpowers or carry the plot. The plot, thank God, is carried by interesting characters. Paul McGuigan is a smart director–creating an indie film out of the Heroes-genre. While it’s been compared to Heroes and X-Men, Push limits itself to “reported” psychic phenomena, from a time before WW2 when there were experiments done with psychics, and follows a natural progression forward in governmental experimentation. It also limits its story to the characters involved, though intimating a larger backdrop of plots and world organizations and other pushers, movers, shifters, etc. But it was the crowded city streets, the alienness of Hong Kong for the American actors, the purposeful pitting of an Asian gang against the American government/ american powers, and the quirky indie film quality that kept pulling me back visually into this movie.
It could have been Jumpers-rehash, or any number of bad government vs. heroes films, but McGuigan seemed to want to paint something different, something fresh. I was surprised and pleased with Push and I think you will be too. Go rent it.