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Friday, July 27, 2007

Invisible Target 男兒本色

poster of Invisible Target

Director Benny Chan Muk-Sing is sort of like the Michael Bay of Hong Kong cinema. I don't mean this as an insult, but he's really the go-to guy for big-budget HK actioners with explosions and crazy stunts. Most of the time, when it comes to action scenes, he seldom disappoints.

He is behind some of the finest Hong Kong action movies of the 90s, like the awesome BIG BULLET (you won't see great ensemble cop films like this anymore), but he also has a penchant for sappy melodrama like his debut film A MOMENT OF ROMANCE and its (unrelated) sequel.

His works since the late 90s (1998's Jackie Chan film WHO AM I? and 1999's GEN-X COPS) are often characterized by some thrilling action set pieces and a dash of heavy-handed sappy melodrama that either makes or breaks the film. And because of that, to me, his output since these two movies, while often well-produced, is rather uneven.

GEN-Y COPS (2000) was a putrid piece of trash (this film is also Edison Chen's film debut).

HEROIC DUO (2003) was fairly entertaining before it choked me to death with its sappy ending.

NEW POLICE STORY (2004) was one of the best Jackie Chan films in years (though the whole romantic subplot between Jackie Chan and Charlie Young felt... awkward, and don't even let me go to the proposal scene)

DIVERGENCE (2005) is noted for resurrecting Aaron Kwok's career with his critically-acclaimed Golden Horse award-winning performance (which to me, was still pretty damned over-the-top). I enjoyed it, but mostly because of Daniel Wu's charismatic performance as the badass assassin.

ROB-B-HOOD (2006) is a really good film. While it's also marred by a ridiculously sweaty and weepy ending which had Jackie Chan and Louis Koo overacting like hell, its humour and entertainment value managed to balance things out.

The reason why I'm going through Benny Chan's post-2000 filmography is to illustrate my struggles when watching a Benny Chan film. These star-studded films are often frivolous and fun, and the action scenes are always staged well, and I would always be having the time of my life... before his films are ruined by angsty melodrama, and thus diminishing my enjoyment. Everytime he tries to turn his film into tearjerkers, I feel disgusted.

His latest film, INVISIBLE TARGET, starring Nicholas Tse, Shawn Yu and Jaycee Chan (son of Jackie) is no different. The action scenes are thrilling to watch, you see characters being smashed into, well, stuff, a lot. Glass windows, tables, walls, cars etc. Sometimes, it's pretty wince-inducing when I saw Nicholas Tse performing a Jackie Chan-esque stunt in an intense chase sequence (running down the crowded streets, on car roofs, then being slammed by a bus in mid-air, and then slammed by another car, and then continues running) and seeing a character being sent flying backwards by a kick, and then falling down the stairs, and crashing into splintered tables, it's pretty hardcore stuff.

The film made sure you wouldn't miss any of these stunts by often having 'instant replays' of what just occurred from another angle, it felt really like an old-school Hong Kong film... or Ong Bak.

But at the same time, it felt really corny.

There's a story, of course. The paths of three heroic cops Chan Chun (Nicholas Tse), Fong Yik-wei (Shawn Yue) and Jaycee Chan's Wai King-ho intersect when they are tracking down a merry band of murderous bank robbers led by Tien (Wu Jing). Chan Chun wants to avenge the death of his fiancee, who was collateral damage during one of Tien's bank robberies. Fong is also out to redeem his hurt manly ego after getting his butt kicked by Tien and then being forced to eat bullets (... literally). Wai King-ho is investigating the mysterious disappearance of his brother (cameo by Aaron Kwok... who appeared only in photographs, most bizarre film cameo ever!)

There's really not much of a story here, nor character development, Chan Chun spends most time looking angsty, Fong spends most time looking angry and Wai, well, to my surprise, his role has the most dramatic pathos, and Jaycee Chan has definitely improved much since the days of... TWINS EFFECT 2.

I have yet to become a believer of Wu Jing, despite most people calling him a worthy successor to Jet Li. Since his breakthrough role as the cold-blooded assassin in SHA PO LANG, I haven't really been that impressed with him subsequent films. FATAL CONTACT was decent (its fighting scenes were good), but TWINS MISSION remains the one horrible film that made me want to gouge my own eyes out. However, as a baddie again in INVISIBLE TARGET, Wu Jing quite simply... rocked. There are many moments in the film which made me go "whoa, Wu Jing IS badass!", lots of posing, lots of impressive martial arts display. Sure, he did take a page from Jet Li's acting book in LETHAL WEAPON 4, but when he started kicking ass, I nearly squealed like a little girl.

However, this film is still much too overindulgent and melodramatic as it goes on. The 'downtime' between action setpieces are spent on having characters philosophize and rant in a non-stop monologue on the reasons behind their actions, how their actions can be justified, how the bad guys and the good guys are not that different, how a bad guy can still be a good guy if he wants to, or how a bad guy and good guy could've been best friends if they weren't on different sides, as moments like this piled up, I could only stare numbly, hoping that whatever action scene that follows this is worth the time. Thankfully, they seldom disappoint.

If the film were less indulgent and tighter in its pacing, it would've made one hell of a film. Not as good as those two post-2000 Jackie Chan films, but I probably enjoyed this just as much as DIVERGENCE (maybe enjoyment is the wrong word, since DIVERGENCE is such a downer).

Invisible Target trailer