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There are a lot of crime dramas in the annals of world cinema. Most of the expected tropes have been worn out long ago, but that’s okay. There’s always room for one more, and in this case it marks Benny Chan’s final directorial effort. Drawing from his own work in the likes of New Police Story and Michael Mann’s Heat, this is a moody and stylish affair. The whole thing is painted with amber night-time lights and harsh electronic screens. There are some blistering action sequences along the way for good measure. Is this a story with any depth beyond all this window dressing? Is it more than a well-lit melodrama? Not really. But fans of the lead actor, and the selection of familiar genre staples included here, will want to check it out. So let’s take a closer look at this latest thriller, and enter yet another world full of grey morality and cruel injustices.

Donnie Yen

Inspector Cheung (Donnie Yen) is a father-to-be. There’s not much more to his character, outside his knack for rubbing the HKPD brass the wrong way. He’s not a team player, and as a result his past is about to catch up with him. Memories of a stormy night and a scene of police brutality flash across his mind’s eye, signalling the return of an old friend. It’s soon apparent that his former colleague Yau Kong-Ngo (Nicholas Tse) is out for revenge. He’s returned with the rest of his unit, who were jailed for the death of a suspect some years earlier. Cheung takes a stand against corruption and is taken off an upcoming operation, while Ngo sets a plan in motion to ensure they will meet in series of confrontations. These opposing characters are painted very broadly, and in an action heavy feature that can often work. But there are times that it feels lacking in the personality department.

Cheung finds himself off the case, but this proves fortunate as the situation his team was surveying devolves into chaos. The drug deal between a Vietnamese gang and crime boss Wong Kwun (Ben Lam) turns into a bloodbath thanks to a group wearing Casey Jones masks. It seems that this scenario has been used by Ngo as way to make some money, in order to finance his whole vendetta. Soon it turns into a far reaching scheme that includes Cheung, the police commissioner, and the banking tycoon who was saved by Ngo’s violent tactics. This might sound like a fairly clear cut, if complex, way of destroying the lives of those who put him behind bars. But the way it plays out on screen is far more convoluted that it needs to be. If only the core of the narrative was as structurally satisfying as the bone-crunching finale.

There’s a lot of weight dragging the story down before it gets to the action. Flashbacks to a court case are introduced without any obvious cue. So are scenes from the night in which a suspect died, after providing the whereabouts of the kidnapped banker. The same rainy prologue sequence appears several times before its purpose is clear. It could have been summarised fairly quickly in an opening credits montage. Instead it’s needlessly confusing before any of the details emerge. A tighter edit, in what is an excessive two-hour running time, would have done wonders for the pacing and the clarity. It would have even left time for some actual characterisation, to lend it genuine pathos and depth. It could be more than just a melodrama that explores the idea of good-cop versus bad-cop in different ways. But it’s not that type of movie, so let’s talk about explosions and knife-fights.

Nicholas Tse

This is a movie in which someone drop-kicks a phone booth onto their opponent. It toys with the idea of real drama and character conflict. Then it moves on to a filthy brawl in a sewer. The earlier set pieces are dark and grimy, focusing on broken glass and dirty water. Later it branches out into vehicular mayhem, explosive chaos in the subway, and some classic one-on-one combat. If nothing else the standard boiler-plate crime elements are counter-balanced by a lot of variety in terms of spectacle. There’s not a lot of actual suspense, even during moments that use ticking bombs, difficult interrogations, and surprise heist misdirects. There are also some questionable green-screen effects during the chase scenes, which is always disappointing to see. But the build up of carnage during the third act means a lot of these hiccups can be forgiven.

That being said, an overly long and unwieldy plot remains a central problem. Cheung is pulled up by Internal Affairs after close call, apparently just to prove that he’s the good guy. It’s unnecessary to have his colleagues arrive to say this out loud, but they include this scene anyway. The rivalry between him and his old team mates should speak for itself. It often does when they meet in person. Flashbacks and funerals push the dark tone of the story, but it’s often over done. The film pushes these moments hard but never manages to deliver three-dimensional heroes and villains. The mechanics of the whole revenge could be far more intricate, even at a brisk ninety-minutes. Instead there are plot contrivances involving new evidence just to keep it all moving past so much underwhelming dialogue.

As a result it’s often meandering. The sub-plot from act one about bribery and high ranking officers is forgotten as things progress. It was just a means to an end instead of a real part of the narrative. Which is strange when so much extraneous material is included just to go over the same themes. Still, at the end of the day I can get on board when a fight involves a lot of church scaffolding and a series of different melee weapons. Hong Kong action cinema is littered with great conclusions like this. It’s true that there’s a lot of dry stop-and-start groundwork to cover before it reaches this zenith. It’s a long wait but many action fans will find it worth their time, though some may find it equally frustrating for the reasons stated. It’s nothing new and there are some rough patches, but the final showdown includes a piano being used like something from a Looney Tunes animation. Which I can get on board with.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

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About Mocata 149 Articles
A sucker for classic epics, 80s science fiction and fantasy kitsch, horror, action, animation, stop motion, world cinema, martial arts and all kinds of assorted stuff and nonsense. If you enjoy a bullet ballet, a good eye ball gag or a story about time travelling robots maybe we can be friends after all.

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