Donnie Yen keeps getting better and better.
Film Review © 2014 by Trip Reynolds
Directed by Clarence Fok Yiu-leung. Screenplay by Kam-Yuen Szeto. Produced by Peter Pau, Zhang Wang, Han Xiao-Li, and Donnie Yen. Executive produced by Qi Daji, Sanping Han, Zheng Lu, and Guo Shou-Bao.
Starring: Donnie Yen (as undercover cop, Chan Chi-Lung/Dragon), Tian Jing (as Fang Jing), Andy On (as Lo Chi-Wai/Sunny), Ronald Cheng (as Captain Cheung King-Kun), Collin Chou (as Cheung Mo-Hung), Terence Yin (as Terry), Zhigang Yang (as Captain Lei Peng), Hanyu Zhang (as Daofeng/Blade), Hee Ching Paw (as Chan's mother, Amy), Cheung-Ching Mak (as Brother Kun), and a host of others.
We've seen plenty of movies like this. Simply put, a deeply embedded undercover cop, Chan Chi-Lung (Donnie Yen) wants to get out before it's too late, but his so-called criminal friends and his so-called police colleagues are both working against him. Add a half-dozen or so pseudo-climactic skirmishes, and a pseudo-epic finalé robust with martial arts and derring-do, and you've got this film. However, what really makes this film more . . . unique . . . is the casual acting style of star Donnie Yen.
Without doubt, Yen is an accomplished martial artist, but his performance as a worn and ragged undercover police officer was not phoned-in and very believable. Yen was equally casual and dismissive to his criminal colleagues, while conversely conveying a worldly street-smart knowledge unfamiliar to his police colleagues. Plus, in the midst of the martial arts and derring-do our hero Chan Chi-Lung also has to deal with several personal issues, such as being secretly attentive to his mother, Amy (Hee Ching Paw); a by-the-book, no-nonsense feisty police officer Fang Jing (Tian Jing) who considers Chan Chi-Lung a relic of the past; and a devious former protégé and aspiring crime lord, Lo Chi-Wai/Sunny (Andy On).
Getting back to Yen's acting, there's a really nice scene where Chan Chi-Lung arrives at a beauty shop to pick-up his mother; she's there for a hair cut. Chan Chi-Lung is really shocked to discover his crime boss cutting his mother's hair, threatening Chan Chi-Lung to be quiet or risk the scissors slipping and harming his mother. The look of desperation on Yen's face was priceless.
Initially the story concerns three local triad gangs who are searching for the identity of an undercover cop, and Chan Chi-Lung is a key suspect, and he knows he's at risk. So Chan Chi-Lung requests/demands his captain to transfer him to a safer environment. Chan Chi-Lung's request is granted, and he's reassigned to Mainland China to work with Fang Jing, who's all business but without the street-smarts required to work effectively with either Chan Chi-Lung or the opposing criminal element; which is surprisingly lead by Chan Chi-Lung's protégé, Sunny, from his previous gang. Chan Chi-Lung must bring down Sunny in order to be granted his ultimate desire - to be reinstated as a regular cop, no longer undercover. In addition to "special identities," film also offers mistaken identities, a sniper, and a couple of double-crosses. Rather than appear as a stereotypical frail or overachieving woman in the midst of derring-do men, Fang Jing (Tian Jing) does a great job of holding her own; well, at least until she broke down and started to cry as women are stereotypically perceived to do.
As expected, film ends in a testosterone-fueled battle between Chan Chi-Lung/Dragon and Lo Chi-Wai/Sunny. Again, we've seen plenty of movies like this, and yes, there are better films, and Donnie Yen's been in a bunch of them, such as "Once Upon a Time in China (1991)" and "Legend of the Wolf (1997)" and "Ip Man (2008)." Nevertheless, Yen is more than just an accomplished martial artist, he's also a talented film director, an innovative director for action choreography, and as with his performance is "Ip Man," he's also a talented actor.
Film is genré specific, and predictable. Direction by Clarence Fok Yiu-leung is solid, but more voyeuristic than action-oriented; direction fails to deliver on-the-edge-of-your-seat, "let's see that again" kind of action. Film editing by Ka-Fai Cheung is snappy, but to enhance airplay for U.S. cable/commercial television should be trimmed from 99 to 90 minutes.
Recommendation: This is a home video release; rent it, don't buy it unless you want to add it to your Donnie Yen collection.