Explosive City

For a while at least this film brings back memories from the so-called Golden Age of Hong Kong action films – a splash of "Black Cat" in the beginning, a few nods to “Dreaming the Reality” but in particular it feels very much influenced by the classic “On the Run” from 1988. Not only is the plot very similar but from certain angles the Japanese female assassin also has more than a passing resemblance to Pat Ha who so perfectly portrayed the icy hit woman in that film. Directed by Sam Leong (The Stewardess, Color of Pain), the film begins with a bang and keeps the narrative taut and frantic for the first hour until it sags noticeably towards the end and takes some annoying cinematic shortcuts. Still with the Hong Kong action genre in such doldrums it is heartening to see something like this – though unfortunately it didn’t fare too well at the box office.
A senior member of the Chinese government is giving a speech at the Hong Kong airport under the protection of police officer Cheung (Simon Yam) when Jade (Hisako Shirata), a sleek female assassin, infiltrates the press corps, whips out a pistol and wounds the official before Cheung is able to cover him up. A wild chase ensues through the corridors and onto the roof tops of the airport buildings before Jade hits her head in a jump and is knocked unconscious. When she wakes up in police custody her memory is gone and she is unable to answer any of their questions. The case is then turned over to Officer Ming played by Alex Fong in his usual hang dog manner – though in this case it’s because his wife just booted him out of the house. As he prepares to move Jade from the hospital to a jail cell, he receives a video call from the man behind Jade – Otosan (Sonny Chiba) – and he shows Ming that his wife and son are in his care and proves quite unmercifully that unless Ming follows his orders his son will be killed.
On route Ming is contacted by Otosan who tells him to stop the convoy and kill Jade. Ming follows his instructions with three shots to her chest and then escapes in the car with her in the back seat. Jade is wearing a bullet proof vest though and when she recovers she chooses to co-operate with Ming in tracking down the gang that betrayed her. As her memory slowly comes back, she remembers that she had been kidnapped as a child along with a number of other children and they had all been trained by their father figure Otosan to be professional killers. Interestingly, Eddie Ko who played a similar character in “Dreaming the Reality” to his adopted children Moon Lee (who loses her memory in that film) and Yukari Oshima, is a high level policeman here. The recent “Naked Weapon” also had a similar plot point about kidnapping children and training them to be killers. The two of them are determined to track down Otosan and his many other multi-racial trained killers (Samuel Pang among them) – Ming to save his son and Jade to get even. This isn’t easy though since most of the police force under Cheung is after them and it seems likely that a traitor in the police ranks is relaying their every move to the bad guys. Many gun battles and dead bodies later they come face to face with Otosan.
Between Yam, Fong and Chiba, this film is loaded with enough tough machismo to power a tank through a war zone, but sadly never in the same place at the same time - somehow they should have figured out a way to get these three in a Mexican standoff - and then we take bets on who survives. The film moves so quickly that it never allows much room for exploration of their characters beyond the surface, but within this limitation all three of them are fine – Yam steely and authoritative, Chiba cruel and kind by turns and Fong hits a few solid emotional notes in his feelings for his family. Hisako doesn’t come off to quite the same effect – after her initial hit in which she seems the epitome of poised killing cool, she never approaches that alluring swagger again and is unable to project the toughness and cold bloodedness that one might expect from a woman with her background (with many recorded kills to her credit). Perhaps it is just my personal preference, but I wanted her to turn into a ruthless killing machine but she is generally a secondary character to Fong in the mayhem department.
After setting up the film nicely with some surprisingly dark hard hitting moments and good momentum, the film takes a spiraling downward course in logic towards the end that really hurts the film and tattoos it with a “B” imprint. The scriptwriting just gets very lazy in the final third as if they were bored with filling out the details or simply running out of time – but details are important in a film like this. For example, Ming mysteriously figures out a bomb has been placed inside a statue in Macau and saves the day – but there was absolutely no reason for him to look for one. Later Ming realizes what the band of assassins are really up to and turns to a computer expert (who just happens to be the girlfriend of his friend played by Lam Suet) and asks her “what is the most undefended part of Hong Kong” and a few clicks later she says the airport. Huh? How the hell did she do that? Another click later and she discovers who the target must be – and then a few clicks later Ming and Jade manage to make it to the airport just in time! Not long after this there is a concluding, “how the hell did they get there” moment and the film disintegrates in your hands. It’s a disappointment in this regard because much of the film is well thought out with a gritty sense of peril and well choreographed shoot outs, but one just wishes the filmmakers had kept it up till the end.

My rating for this film: 6.0