So Close (Columbia TriStar, 2002) D: Corey Yuen, w/ Shu Qi, Karen Mok, Vicki Zhao. Rating: NNN
though yuen woo-ping has four brothers in the action choreographer/director business, Eurotrash action director (The Transporter) and martial arts choreographer (Kiss Of The Dragon) Corey Yuen is not one of them. So Close, Yuen's entry in the girls-with-guns genre, marks his return to Hong Kong. While it's got some spectacularly conceived fight scenes, it does suffer from the fact that neither of the babelicious protagonists has any martial arts background, so the film shoots around them as they pose amidst the digital effects. Shu Qi - the "package" in The Transporter - and Vicki Zhao do look great posing in their endless assortment of white outfits, and the film features one of the cleverest bits of wire work in recent memory.
Second-rate and highly derivative of The Matrix (check the elevator scene and all that flying digital glass) but it's more enjoyable than The Transporter simply because it isn't centred on the grim Jason Statham. Not as good as Kiss Of The Dragon, though, which had Jet Li beating up French guys.
EXTRAS Theatrical trailer. Cantonese and English-language versions; Chinese, English, French, Spanish, Thai and Korean subtitles.
S.W.A.T. (Columbia/TriStar, 2003) D: Clark Johnson, w/ Samuel L. Jackson, Colin Farrell. Rating: NNN
As gigantic brainless summer shoot-'em-ups go, S.W.A.T. is not bad at all. Its strong cast includes Michelle Rodriguez, Josh Charles, LL Cool J and Olivier Martinez (Unfaithful) as the generic Eurotrash villain. First-time feature director Clark Johnson (acting veteran of Homicide and several Toronto films) lets the characters breathe a bit amid the mayhem, and maintains the spatial integrity of some very large-scale action sequences.
Sam Jackson is the commander who gets to pick his own S.W.A.T. team, including rebels (Farrell) and rejects (Rodriguez), who find themselves having to deliver Martinez to a prison after he's offered $100 million to anyone who can bust him out. A fun cast commentary (Rodriguez should be allowed to join any DVD commentary she wants) along with the usual array of extras.
EXTRAS Director/cast and technical consultant commentaries, making-of featurettes, gag reel, deleted scenes. English and French versions and subtitles.
In The Line Of Duty 4 (20th Century Fox/Fortune Star, 1989) D: Yuen Woo-ping w/ Cynthia Khan, Donnie Yen. Rating: NNNN
Duel To The Death (20th Century Fox/Fortune Star, 1982) D: Ching Siu-Tung, w/ Norman Chu, Damian Lau. Rating: NNNN
The latest series of fox pickups from Hong Kong distributor Fortune Star includes a pair of mediocre Jackie Chan/Sammo Hung comedies. The two actors are really good together, but not when Sammo's directing and indulging his worst low comic instincts. Fox has also brought out Hung's rip-off of every explodin' bamboo flick of the 80s, Eastern Condors, and two titles that are musts for any fan of Hong Kong action cinema. In The Line of Duty 4, directed by Yuen Woo-ping, has underdeveloped characters, an overdeveloped plot and genre-typical acting. But it may be the ass-kickingest movie ever made. And "kicking" is the operative word. Cynthia Khan, who replaced Michelle Yeoh in the series after Yeoh married producer Dickson Poon and retired for the duration of her marriage, has a wicked spin kick, and Donnie Yen, perhaps the best actor of the martial arts stars, can jump in the air and kick you twice before landing. The scene where he goes airborne and kicks a guy off a motorcycle involves no wire work.
The action's not non-stop, but close enough, and includes a fight on a moving ambulance that reportedly gave Khan nightmares for weeks afterwards, a motorcycle chase/fight scene and a great rooftop showdown between Yen and frequent opponent Michael Woods. The new anamorphic transfer is vastly superior to the rather scratchy Tai Seng DVD, with good idiomatic subtitles and DTS soundtracks in both Cantonese and English.
Duel To The Death has been touted by some as the greatest of the old-school Hong Kong sword movies. I'm not sure I'd go that far, but it is deliriously silly. It's got exploding flying ninjas! At one point, a bad guy is decapitated and his head, impaled on a branch, opens its eyes, delivers a message of doom and explodes. The plot is about attempts by the Japanese emperor to fix the once-in-a-generation duel between China's and Japan's greatest swordsmen, but they're men of honour who will have nothing to do with it. DTS soundtracks, good subtitles (though I'm not sure we need more clarity in something this loopy) and wire work that will make you say, "What the hell...?"
EXTRAS Theatrical trailers, English subtitles.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb