After my last very disappointing outing to watch Feng Yun 2 （风 云），i told myself that most Chinese movies are not worth it. But i managed to get off work early and a $7 ticket was too good to pass up and with rather good showing by Donnie Yen recently, i popped by to see this movie.
First words: It's hardly as bad as the 1 star or 2 stars rating given by newspapers but it's not that fantastic as well. For Donnie Yen fans wanting action, there's not much.
Story plot : Straightforward plot, so i will reveal all.
Chen Zheng went to France after the uproar he caused by killing the old Japaneses general. This story picked up in France where he was caught in the war with the Germans. He's comrade died and he assume his identity to come back to Shanghai.On the bad guy side u have the Japaneses who is killing everyone and trying to di-unite the Chinese and on good folk side is Cheng Zen who is trying to stop them. Cheng Zen won in the beginning but cannot match the ruthless Japaness and he got wacked badly and the rest of the world suffer. He recover and go back to wack the Japaness badly in the end. Simple.
The good: This film is set in 1920's shanghai. The costume set and scene is very well though out and full of lush details. It's not as rich as "in the mood for love, 花 样 年 华“, but remember this is a fighting movie after all and a lot of credit must be given to attempt this in a fighting genre movie. Much filming took place in a nightclub called "Casablanca" and in the street outside this nightclub. Very good attempt at a " Moulin Rouge" kind of mood ( without all that theatrical singing) to convey a sense of gay and escape from the turbulent Shanghai of 1920s. Another scene whereby Donnie Yen brought Shu Qi back to his real place is not bad. Kinda reminiscent of Titanic dancing scene where Jack brought rose down to level 3 to dance.
Screen Chemistry between Shu Qi and Donnie Yen isn't sizzling but adequate. Shu Qi is quite convincing as a spy caught in a dilemma and managed to convey enough screen presence with her acting as a carefree nightclub hostess.
There's also some very good acting by the supporting cast. Fantastic tension portrayed by the 2 warlord generals, killing of Chen Zhen buddies etc.
The Bad: Music borders on the cheesy. The music is adequate, but have the all too familiar feeling sometimes and hence the cheesy feeling. Nothing ground breaking like drums in duel scene in " crouching tiger, hidden dragons" or vienna boy choir for " 无 间 道 “
There's 3 fighting scene mainly. The best is really the part where he fought the Germans. Kinda exaggerated but very watchable. The second part is where he fought off some assassins. Normal fighting, scene kinda dark and movement somewhat blur. Barely passable.
I give the thumbs down to the final king fight. First he fought off like a few hundred Jap using his nu chunk after he killed a general in the Japaness Dojo. Very messy choreography. It basically involve one punch or one kick that send each guy flying off and crushing into a window, door or down the stairs and the scene of the guy flying off is longer than the time he execute his move. So it's really a yawn. And it ends suddenly, one moment the jap came after him like ants and suddenly they are all lying on the floor.
At this point, the biggest badass who is the son of the old general he has killed dispatched all the useless jap and he went 1 v1 with chen Zen.
And that's where it crumbled. This jap kicked Chen Zhen ass in like 30 seconds. It's not nice fighting. Very blur camera motion that tries to follow the kicks, lots of windows being torn apart. I really miss the kind of nicely choreographed and CLEAR fighting u see in his other moves like " 叶 问 ， 导 火 线， 沙 破 狼 “
Anyway, Chen Zhen laid flat on the ground nearly dead and recalls all sorts of flashback. He sprang up, all brand new and peel off his shirt ( yes ) and there's a FULL 20 SECONDS focused on this muscular body. Then like he as never lost to the Jap before, he, with camera motion blured and all , knocked tat jap down and landed punches and punches and EVEN more punches no the guy ( yawns) until he fell onto the ground. And he won. Yawns.
Seriously, i expect better fighting.
What also spoils this movie is the very strong anti-Japaneses feeling it tries to stir up and how the Chinese ( Chen Zen ) seeks vengeance.. A bad guy is needed, but one can't help feeling that the intention is more of a need to guarantee some commercial success in the China market than a crucial theme of the story.
What can be done better: The fighting needs to be improved. Donnie Yen can fight, but he cannot choreograph fighting moves. Cheesy music needs to be improved. More character development of the Jap generals will be nice along with 黄 秋 生 as the nightclub owner. IF elements of 色。 戒 is incorporated into the forbidden love between donnie yen and shu qi ( he found out she's a spy quite early) , this movie might be a big winner at the golden horse.
All in all, good attempt, esp at re-creating old shanghai, but fail short of the fighting and character development requirement of great movies. And the hints of the need to ensure this movie stuck a chord in the chinese market ( read: stir nationalistic sentiments) is the final straw.
Recommendation: If u want to watch old shanghai being recreated, head for the movies. If u want to see action film, wait for the TV release.