Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Flash Point Review

Flash Point is a rockabilly ride through a time tunnel to the 1980’s when action was a crunching, bruising high wire act that defied logic with a bare-bones plot that was only there as a formality. This third outing from director Wilson Yip and actor/producer Donnie Yen is in some ways their least ambitious film (the other two being SPL and Dragon Tiger Gate), but is the most enjoyable. It is just basically a knock down drag out fight in which they eschew the atmosphere and plot structuring of SPL and thankfully pull back from the preening high concept fantasy of DTG. Everything here is retro- 80’s – even having the villains as three over the top nasty Vietnamese refugees – an often used device back then – and including many actors from that period. But it is especially the action that recalls those glory days - blistering fight sequences that rely only on the physical skills of the actors and not on CGI or clever editing. It has a lengthy final fight sequence that has classic written all over it – a furious head on collision at full speed in which neither man gives an inch or a speck of mercy. It may be the best one on one fight in a decade.

Let’s get what plot there is over with quickly. The story takes place pre-Handover as a comforting on-screen message informs us upfront – as if this could never take place in the present under the watchful eyes of the government and also likely to help get the film play in the Mainland. Three refugee brothers from Vietnam (two of them being 80’s stalwarts – Ray Lui and Colin Chou, aka Ngai Sing who had the classic fight with Jet Li in Bodyguard from Beijing) aren’t satisfied with their criminal piece of Hong Kong and want more – much more. Their only redeeming characteristic is a devoted love for their elderly mom (Ha Ping), but otherwise they have no compunction in killing or maiming anyone in their path. Rival gang head Ben Lam (another 80’s B action film star) is the first targeted, but a number of other gang heads are also in their sights. Trying to bring the trio down is the expressionless Inspector Ma (Donnie Yen) a Hong Kong Dirty Harry who also loves his mom (Helen Law Lan) but doesn’t put a lot of stock in the civil rights of criminals. His partner Wilson (Louis Koo) has infiltrated the gang and between the two of them and their boss (yet another star from the 80’s, Kent Cheng) they plan to bring them to justice – but all their plans go wrong and they finally have to resort to what they do best – vengeful kick ass action – and lot’s of it.

Yen – and I direct it to him because honestly this feels much more his film than Wilson Yip’s – smartly builds up the action slowly with a few quick snapshots in the first half that act only as a warm up for what is going to come and gives us just enough character development to care about the good guys. In the final forty minutes he just lets it go – a near non-stop rampage of action with a terrific one on one fight between Donnie and a bad guy on the streets of Hong Kong, a tense shoot out in a field of hay and then the final encounter between Yen and Chou that will have your heart caught in your throat – an astonishingly brutal wonderfully choreographed fight in which they occasionally just pause to recapture their breath and their senses before charging one another again. I was only sorry to see this in a theater because I couldn’t immediately replay the entire sequence. Donnie Yen certainly has had his detractors over the years – and as usual his acting is so monotone here that it barely passes as acting – but no one anymore is staging action like he has in this film and in SPL (where he plays this same character). Most action now in Hong Kong is basically all super wire enhanced with much of the work being done in the editing room because the new actors simply aren’t trained for this type of thing – but Donnie still brings on the real deal and every now and then we need that to remind us just how great Hong Kong action used to be when it ruled the world.

My rating for this film: 8.0


Marc said...

This is coming to DVD later this month - absolutely can't wait to see it!

Brian said...

Well I think I liked it more than most reviews I have seen - I was just really in the mood for this after the slow moving Blood Brothers - this was like a shot of caffeine.