|Chow Yun-Fat goes undercover at Surgis...no, wait...|
1) While John Woo seems to be influenced by the Sam Peckinpahs and Sergio Leones and Don Seigels of the world, Ringo Lam seems gleeful in the way he wallows around in his influences--namely the Bruckheimer/Simpson axis of directors. This film has all the earmarks of a typical Bruckheimer/Simpson action film, from the thorough disregard for collateral human damage to the cartoony bad guys to the way all the action sequences seem to be drenched in sexy blue light.
2) Watching this film made me once again feel sorry for Chow Yun-Fat. Here's this guy who is truly a movie star in the old school sense--someone who plays himself more or less and holds the film together strictly by force of charisma. There are long stretches where this film just threatens to fall apart...and yet, when all seems lost, Yun-Fat's Gou-Fei steps back into the picture and pulls everything back into place with a simple line reading or bit of body language.
3) I can't help thinking that Lam is playfully mocking John Woo's bromances with Simon Yan's The Judge being openly homosexual and yearing for Gou-Fei. The fact that he's apparently a magician thief who hangs out with a cartoon punk and his perpetually horny, hyena-laughing wife makes this aspect all the more odd. And Yam, bless his heart, just jumps in with both feet and has as much fun as he can with this insane idea.
|"Stop looking at my panties and get me a piano...I'm playing |
Neil Gaiman's birthday in an hour!"
4) And speaking of that henchwoman--I found Bonnie Fu Yuck-Jing (who apparently doesn't even have a character name--at one point she is referred to as Yin) rather appealing in a peculiar, disquieting way. Looking like an Asian Tori Amos, doing the weirdest laugh I've heard in action cinema in a while (I wonder if Ellen Page watched this before taking on her role in Super), and behaving like the dream Bruckheimer/Simpson girl, she's....well, unique. Far more unique than her mohawked, unitard wearing husband, Frankie Chin's 'Madman.'
5) Thankfully, we have Ann Bridgewater's Mona to balance out the bizarre and out there Yin. Playing the usual thankless task of a Bruckheimer/Simpson girlfriend, Mona is all to willing to go along with her rote role--until it's time for her to fall back into Gou-Fei's arms. At that point, she tells both Gou-Fei and his brother, who she gets together with during the long, long period where he's believed dead, to get stuffed because only she gets to decide who she stays with. It's a very satisfying swerve.
6) I am very, very curious about the club several key scenes happen in. I understand that the reason Gou-Fei hangs out there is because Mona works as a dancer....but what is the deal? The music seems to indicate this is a strip club, except that Mona's dance routines seem to be some sort of weird kinda amateur modern art dancing. The one routine with Mona and a partner dressed as what appears to be Pacific Islanders seems particular strange entertainment for the bikers and thugs of this place.
|"And my switchblade went snicker-snack...."|
7) Lam does some strange things in his action sequences. Most people will point to those primitve CGI shots of bullets rocketing toward each other like, but the one moment that strikes me as unusal in a beautiful way occurs during the opening knife fight. The way Gou-Fei finds a stream of water falling from--the roof? A lamppost? the composition never makes it clear--and uses it to clean his switchblade after stabbing an enemy while strange shting-shting noises pervade the soundtrack is so bizarre but eloquent, establishing something about the style of the film going in.
8) While this film does seem to show a rather...vigorous disregard for civilian casualties--there are numerous firefights between these two criminal crews where people just go down in sprays of strawberry jelly, and cars blow up as if on reflex with civilians inside--but there's this weird, discordant moment in the second act where Gou-Fei takes the time in his escape from a burning building to save a young girl. This girl is cut back to a number of times even when the plot has moved on. It's a strange development, given that its result--Gou-Fei desiring to mend his ways and revenge himself on The Judge--given that the shock of being betrayed by his brother Sam could also work to achieve this end. And speaking of Sam...
9) Anthony Wong Chau-Sang gives what may be the most interesting performance as Sam. In the first act, he behaves like a sniveling toady, and it's obvious that Gou-Fei is in this life partially to protect his brother. But after that moment where Sam is forced to 'kill' Gou, there is a moment of transformation. Chau-Sang's body language, his appearance, even his voice seems to change ever-so-slightly over the course of a couple of scenes until he's an entirely different person by the third act. And even then, he starts slowly regressing while still retaining his new persona throughout the last twenty minutes.
10) Look, I will accept the phony prosthetic fingers Gou sports even when they look like they're made out of reaaaaalllly thin rubber they use to make cheap monster masks in novelty shops. But being asked to accept that these fingers somehow allow him to shoot The Judge dead....nyah.
Overall...gleefully out there and cartoony without a hint of irony, this is an example of another great Hong Kong director. Plus, it's a reminder of why Chow Yun-Fat was the Garry Cooper of his time.