Expired (2022) is desperate to be Blade Runner (1982). Screams it, in fact. From the dystopian setting, rogue android assassins and glowy handguns to the freaky balls of light/cars in the sky, it wears its Ridley Scott fanboy badge proudly on its sleeve.
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It’s a homage bordering on plagiarism but, mixed with the slow-burn pacing and beauty of a Nicolas Winding Refn piece, just about manages to forge its own melancholic identity.
Starting at the bottom, together.
We begin proceedings by following Jack (Ryan Kwanten) mumbling his narration to us as he goes about life as a hitman. He gets tip-offs, goes on stake-outs and then tracks his victims through the busy streets and cramped alleyways of a futuristic Hong Kong. He’s alone. He’s always been alone and does this job because it’s all he has access to.
This is not John Wick (2014) with its swagger and synthewave nightclubs. This is a man with no hope and no choice.
Blowing off steam between hits Jack frequents a brothel/karaoke bar where he becomes fascinated with the equally maudlin April (played with a magnetic grace by Jillian Nguyen) and this, as he first stalks and then strikes up a relationship with her, is where things start to get interesting.
Post stalk, and once he has introduced himself properly, Jack and April become fascinated with one another. Their mutual loneliness and damage pulling them together. Their chemistry is palpable. Restrained. Taught. Brought to life with brilliant, low key performances.
But all is not well. When Jack becomes mysteriously ill, his latest hit, Dr Bergman, an old scientist played with an expected gravitas by Hugo Weaving, seems to know something about it and, again, another unlikely relationship is formed. One with lasting impact for all three characters.
Love in a land of sadness
Expired takes a slow-burn approach and is a hypnotic watch, evoking memories of Only God Forgives (2013) and even Ghost in the Shell (1995) in terms of its pacing and philosophising (and for the former, in its cinematography too).
The philosophical wonderings of its characters do a lot of the heavy lifting here, preventing the film from being too slow and gloomy. The poetry in the script makes up for some dodgy SFX.
Director Ivan Sen’s desire to emulate a dystopian future strains the budget to its limits. Thus, Bad CGI lights swish about in the sky, trying to make things seem futuristic but instead adding nothing but lens flare to the tale. Had Sen left these out the film would not have suffered as Hong Kong, with its melting pot of languages and cultures, would have been interesting enough on its own. It seems that a desire for robots forced his hand.
Expiration (first) dates
CGI aside, the film is very pretty to look at with drab daytime scenes contrasting with the neon glow of the city’s nightlife and secret places. Nguyen, a source of obsession for much of the film, is shot in such a way that she could have read the dictionary and we’d have fallen in love with her. It is easy to see why Jack would want to know more about April post-karaoke club, and thus stalk her like he does (as uncomfortable as that might be in a post MeToo world).
There are also some wonderful character designs and costume choices, the aforementioned karaoke/brothel and Bergman’s flat/office being particularly beautiful locations.
There is an interesting fluidity throughout the film; the narrative floating between the three players as they each digest the ways Jack and April’s relationship impacts them. Mostly, this insight comes to us via poems, delivered at the top of each character’s latest chapter, setting the tone for the next 15 minutes and upping the artistry of what we are seeing.
These moments, working within the film’s small budget rather than straining against it are where Expired shines, though they sometimes stray close to pretension.
If you’re in the mood for sci-fi philosophising and fancy something that moves a little slower, this film is worth your time, but Blade Runner it is not, no matter how much it wants to be.