If you’re making a film for the Chinese movie-going audience, what is your first go-to resource of getting the audience immediately on your side? The eeeeeeevil Japanese, that’s who! I don’t really intend to make light of the war-time atrocities that the Japanese military committed during their occupation of China, but it’s easily the most transparent plot device you’ll see in Hong Kong cinema. At least in City Under Siege, the Japanese are shown to be woefully inept mad scientists who have created some super-soldier mutant gas stuff. Cue the carnival troupe in Malaysia. It’s ok, just stick with me.
Here, we’re introduced to Sunny(Aaron Kwok), a clown that’s part of a troupe of circus performers who’s suffering a serious inferiority complex. He’s always wanted to become a master of the flying dagger, but he just can’t escape the shadow of the dastardly Zhang(Collin Chou). Oddly enough, this is no merry band of circus performers, but rather just a bunch of circus kung-fu dicks who are after the gold that the Japanese had left in a spooky cave on the edge of town. These greedy shlubs promptly get exposed to the super soldier gas that gives them the Neopolitan ice cream of super powers(strength, speed, invulnerability), but the baddies start to turn into grotesque mutants while Sunny is just fat for a little bit.
How on earth can a concept so ludicrously wonderful go so horribly wrong? An ambitious abundance of subplots, groan-worthy comedy, 2 hour run time, and more rubber muscle suits than you can shake a bulgy vein at. It’s hard to pinpoint where exactly the seams come apart on the movie, but I doubt it was even held together in the first place.
I’ll start off with the acting. The primary offender is Kwok’s painfully juvenile portrayal of Sunny. Sometimes I can roll with a young goof grappling with inadequacy and relative self-worth, but when it comes from a 45 year old actor, it’s just creepy and completely disengaging. He’s a one-man comic relief task force and it’s too unbearable for words. Hong Kong cinema has had a long and storied tradition of pandering to its audience through constant comic relief, but this man is no Stephen Chow. Collin Chou seems to be enjoying himself as the eeeevil Zhang, but there’s not much else to him other than his random crush on Angel(Shu Qi) . Jacky Wu Jing adds some enjoyment with his boyish charm and kung-fu stylings. Although, his attempt at facial hair still doesn’t hide that he still looks like a 14 year old.
Even outside of the principle actors, every other aspect of the film manages to fumble the ball and the responsibility rests on director/writer/svengali Benny Chan. The directing is hammy and uneven, while the runtime could have been drastically reduced to help keep the momentum going. Subplots range from impending nuptial stress to tv politics. The worst subplot revolves around Sunny becoming something of a celebrity and we’re treated to a take on celebrity that’s makes Hancock look nuanced and sophisticated. The action choreography leaves a lot to be desired since it’s obvious that Wu Jing had to slow down considerably so the others could keep up and the constant explosions just aren’t enough to be a serviceable distraction.
With all this said, there is a goofy charm to the whole affair that keeps it from becoming a complete waste of time, but it comes close. The movie doesn’t make many efforts to be anything more than what it is, but where it should be entertaining, it just comes off as painful. Sometimes a serviceable distraction is all a movie needs to be to get my recommendation, but in my heart of hearts, I just can’t bring myself to recommend this to anyone, even in spite of the muscle suits.
Make or Break: The movie just completely lost me when Sunny is exposed to the gas and falls into the ocean. He makes his way out but has turned into a Blob of sorts and has a ravenous hunger. He stumbles across Shu Qi who has a flat tire so he helps and she agrees to take him home. Heartwarming dialogue and broad characterization fall on the viewer like an errant piano. Sunny goes to sleep and the water drains out of him(presumably he’s a sponge) and he’s back to normal. This power isn’t relevant to the rest of the movie. Presumably, they had a fatsuit for the day and damn it, they were gonna’ use it.
MVT: It’s gotta’ go to Jacky Wu Jing who’s the only consistently enjoyable part of the movie. It really kind of bums me out that he hasn’t taken off like Donnie Yen, Jet Li, and Jackie Chan had in the past. I honestly feels he’s the one that has got a great mix of martial arts skill and natural acting talent. For shame, Hong Kong, for shame.