Silver Hawk

Michelle Yeoh must be feeling somewhat perplexed about where to take her career at this point after the box office disappointments of The Touch and Silver Hawk. Being a forty something female action star is not exactly a secure place to be in this day and age in Hong Kong or anywhere else. Next up for Michelle is possibly Hua Mulan which as a big fan of hers I can only hope will reverse the mistakes of these last two films. It is easy to see where she has seemingly gone wrong.
After receiving worldwide fame for first the James Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), and then the deserved gushing universal accolades for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Michelle must have been on cloud nine with huge expectations of where her career was going. But nothing happened. She allowed all the adulation to make her forget some basic rules of Hollywood. She is Asian, she was nearing forty and she was pigeon-holed into being an action star and that is a triangle of doom for any actress. Producers paid fawning lip service to her talent, but they really didn’t know what to do with her and no worthy offers came her way. With Hong Kong film in the doldrums and no doubt seeming fairly small to her after her forays into the West, Michelle decided to navigate her own career by becoming a producer – so often a kiss of death for actors. They so rarely are able to judge the most basic thing when producing a film – is this good or not?
With the fame she now had, she was able to put together the financing with the help of Thomas Chung (her reputed boyfriend at the time) of Media Asia for fairly sizably budgeted films (by Hong Kong standards) – but by doing so she also fell into a trap. To make a profit, the films had to appeal to an audience beyond a Chinese one  – it had to cross over to Western audiences (which she no doubt felt she already had) and attract Western distributors. To do this they brought in Western actors (and fighters), often spoke English, created films that had Western sensibilities written all over them (i.e. an Indiana Jones type film and a campy cartoon super hero film) and filled them with special effects that the multiplex goers eat up like buttered popcorn. In the end of course the films didn’t appeal to anyone – they were bland hybrids that found no audience. I don’t think either are terrible films by any means – both have some nice moments – but both suffer from dreadful tin ear dialogue, poor pacing and a complete lack of edge or seriousness about them. They are light action films that never make you care, never make you feel involved, never leave you with a nervous lump in your stomach. These films seem so PG in nature that you wish you were fourteen again and could enjoy them more.
These types of films and film roles are clearly not Michelle’s strong point – she is not good at light comedy and never looks particularly comfortable trading supposed witty repartee that usually hits the ground with a loud thud. In both films she has also subjected herself to dimwitted romances with men/actors who feel like they would blow away in a strong wind. For whatever reason Michelle has never been a successful romantic figure in her films – perhaps being an ass kicking female action star just doesn’t make for good romance because this role reversal awkwardly turns our stereotypes on their heads. In her Hong Kong films they rarely bothered to saddle her with a romantic male counterpart and in the few instances in which they did – Easy Money, Wing Chun, Wonder Seven – they had the sizzle of a rained out barbecue. Michelle is best as a stoic solemn solitary figure – if there is any love in her life it should be of the unrequited kind such as in Crouching Tiger, Tai Chi Master, Butterfly and Sword, Project S. Her best films are in this mode – alone and intense as in Yes Madam, Royal Warriors, Police Story III and this is what she needs to return to and hopefully she will.
In this film Michelle plays a crime fighting super hero in the imaginary metropolis of Polaris who in the best tradition of comic super heroes has two identities – one as Silver Hawk, the other as a wealthy business woman, Lulu Wong. Her Silver Hawk getup is quite retro comic book cool but how anyone could not recognize her real identity was a bit of a puzzler – but no less so than with most super heroes. She has no super powers – just good old fashioned kung fu that she learned at a Buddhist monastery from a young age and she tools about town on her speedy high tech motorcycle. As Lulu, she meets the new sheriff in town, Richie Ren, who has come to Polaris to arrest Silver Hawk because she takes the law into her own hands and by doing so makes the police look incompetent; something they actually seem to do quite well on their own. It turns out they were childhood friends back at the old monastery and he in fact made the first mask for her to hide her identity. A madman, Luke Goss, has a plan to take over the world by controlling people’s minds through the use of an advanced AI computer chip in people’s phones and it is up to Silver Hawk to stop him. He has to be one of the dullest movie madmen ever and in fact all the bad guys in this film are completely forgettable. That is not good thing for a super hero film where the bad guys have to be even more outlandish than the good guys.
There are certainly aspects of Silver Hawk that I appreciated. It has a clean futuristic look in which all the buildings and all the people look very shiny and attractive like a gleaming toothpaste commercial. Director Jingle Ma has a knack for making things look like they just came out of a candy wrapper. This futuristic setting brought back some memories of The Heroic Trio – but at the same time reminds you of how much more emotionally gripping that previous film was. There are other scenes in the film that remind you of other Michelle films – such as the opening action sequence’s similarities to Police Story III in which she fights on top of a moving van – but again the comparison only puts Silver Hawk into a poor light. At least to my not so young anymore eyes, Michelle looks terrific – she is in great shape and looks bedazzling in her many splashy outfits though a few of her hair styles seemed questionable.
There are a number of action scenes – but here lies the real fault of the film – a Michelle Yeoh film lives or dies by its action sequences. These ones have no wallop. A couple of them have potential – especially I thought the one in which Silver Hawk is attacked by a number of opponents on bungee cords  - but they have no visceral impact. No one seems to get hurt, no one bleeds – it all feels very make believe and choreographed by the numbers – which of course it is. None of the characters seem to feel anything when hit and so in turn neither does the audience. The lack of imagination in the action scenes is best exemplified by the fact that on four separate occasions, Silver Hawk takes on the two major underlings (Lee Bing-Bing and Michael Jai White) of the main bad guy and none of the four fights have any spark to them and simply feel repetitious.  Perhaps it is unfair to ask a forty year old woman to take her lumps like she did long ago in the gritty glorious finale in Royal Warriors, but if she is to remain in the genre of action films does she really have any choice? One hates to ask the obvious but painful question, but with a production schedule of a film every two years or so, how many films does Michelle have left in her - one can only hope quite a few but it's hard not to be doubtful.

My rating for this film: 5.5