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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Flash Point 导火线

Donnie Yen in Flash Point

I didn't have high hopes for Flash Point when I first saw its trailer months ago (when I went to see the French rom-com, Hors de Prix). The lady friend I was with was more excited about it than I was.

Flash Point's trailer

My apprehension towards director Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen's third collaboration in three years stemmed mostly from the bad taste left in my mouth from last year's disastrous DRAGON TIGER GATE. The awesome SPL: SHA PO LANG, seemed like a distant memory.

Sure, the trailer showcased the non-stop fighting scenes choreographed by Donnie Yen, but the way it was cut together made it seem like a B-movie, like those late 90s Hong Kong actioners starring Michael Wong.

So I was definitely pleasantly surprised by how good this film actually was when I went to see it yesterday.

Some interesting facts first:

This film was meant to be a prequel of SPL where Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung and Wu Jing would reprise their roles, but I don't think that really came into fruition, so Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen ended up making another film instead.

However, Donnie Yen's character in this film shares the same name as his character in SPL, so this may have still been a prequel of SPL.

Stylishly shot, briskly-paced and absolutely engaging even in its non-action scenes, FLASH POINT does not share the flaws of another recent high-profile Hong Kong action film, Benny Chan's INVISIBLE TARGETS (go read my review) where I felt bored whenever a villain started philosophizing pretentiously about the blurred line between good and evil between major action setpieces. The action scenes in FLASH POINT are sporadic during the first half, I get to see Donnie Yen display some martial arts moves, but the film spends more time in establishing the characters, both heroes and villains, so that I genuinely cared about what happened to them.

The suspense of the film has a lot to do with the fact that its an undercover story where Louis Koo's Wilson is a mole within a deadly gang of three Vietnamese brothers, the flamboyant Zha Gor (Ray Lui, the most badass I've ever seen in YEARS. I have seen him on TV since I was a little kid, but I had never imagined him being able to pull off a role like this! Gotta see it to believe it!), the cold-blooded Tony (Collin Chou, who plays Seraph in the Matrix films... he's definitely more kickass here than in DOA: Dead Or Alive, haha) and the psychotic Tiger (Xing Yu, he's one of the three secret martial artists in KUNG FU HUSTLE, the one who got decapitated by the two Gu Zheng playing assassins). Donnie Yen's black leather jacket-wearing, constantly posing loose cannon Inspector Ma Kwan is Wilson's partner. There's also Fan Bing Bing as Louis Koo's love interest.

The action scenes are, as expected, really intense, and realistic. According to Twitch's review, the cast adopts a fighting style called MMA - Mixed Martial Arts, which is something of a blend of various martial arts techniques. It's thrilling to see combatants use hard-hitting moves from boxing, judo, wrestling, jujitsu etc. As these action scenes happen really swiftly, they do not seem as drawn out and choreographed as INVISIBLE TARGETS' (where we had people constantly slamming into glass), thus they feel more realistic and wince-inducing. I definitely have to give Donnie Yen credit for this, I guess the guy works better WITHOUT special effects (... otherwise the action scenes end up looking as rubbish as the ones in TWINS EFFECTS and DRAGON TIGER GATE)

However, like I mentioned, it's really the non-fighting scenes that surprised me. Back then, SPL surprised me not only with the martial arts sequence, but also its drama, as characters were developed so well, their fates in the downer of an ending felt genuinely heartbreaking (I remember first staring at the ending with Simon Yam and the little girl at the beach and not believing that a scene as poetic and sad as that would actually come from a Hong Kong action film) FLASH POINT is a less depressing film, there is less feeling of gloom and doom, yet the action scenes are weaved into the non-action scenes so seamlessly that I never felt that I had to wait numbly at those moments between fighting scenes. Hell, I didn't even felt bothered with those numerous self-indulgent, glamourous shots of the preening Donnie Yen!

The film is aided by a really good and unconventional soundtrack that drew my notice... in a good way. (... unlike INVISIBLE TARGET'S overwhelmingly angsty and mournful soundtrack that screams at me to take the movie seriously)

It wasn't until last night when I found out that Wilson Yip is the same fine filmmaker who made such exquisite films like the award-winning BULLETS OVER SUMMER (1999) and JULIET IN LOVE (2000) So it's unsurprising that he has a deft touch when it comes to story development and characterization, often bringing something unique and heartfelt in most of the genre films he had done without becoming too melodramatic. I almost felt that he was in auto-pilot mode in DRAGON TIGER GATE, or that he merely took the backseat and allow Donnie Yen to call most of the shots then as he went through the motions.

So, in conclusion, this is a Hong Kong film worth seeing, it's definitely more SPL than DRAGON TIGER GATE.

Although my repeated digs at INVISIBLE TARGETS seemed as if I hated the film, but if you read my review properly, you'll know that I did enjoy the film, just unhappy with some choices made by the filmmaker that severely cripple the film in the end.

Just that if I have to compare FLASH POINT and INVISIBLE TARGETS (I'm sure I'm not going to be the only one to compare these two), I have to say that FLASH POINT is the better film.