Hot War

Reviewed by YTSL

On one hand, one can see how this Hong Kong movie aspired to have an international -- or should I say Hollywood? -- flavor and look.  This is, after all, a production that starts off in Chicago before it quickly moves in and out of a Belfast location, then heads to Hong Kong (and subsequently Kuala Lumpur).  It should be pointed out as well that its protagonists -- agents CS Koo (Jordan Chan is serious and intense in this incarnation), Tango One (who comes in the form of the (still) virginal-looking Ekin Cheng (who, as Dior Cheng, played a virgin who falls for club hostess Carina Lau in "Girls without Tomorrow" and the faking-being-a-prostitute Chingmy Yau in "Boys are Easy"!)) and Szeto Blue (Kelly Chen speaks the best English of the three and has a high place in the cast credits but actually doesn't get that much to do) -- work for the USA's Central Intelligence Agency.

On the other hand, whether the makers of this movie like it or not, HOT WAR seems -- at least to me -- to be so culturally bound and chronologically specific by such as its choice of topical events to focus on (i.e., the 1998 (soccer) World Cup Finals and the fairly recent global -- or at least East Asian -- economic downturn which many Asians perceive as having been caused by currency speculators like George Soros) and villain (Terence Yin - a bleached blonde who looks a lot like a cross between Aaron Kwok and an English soccer player named David Beckham, best known to non-soccer fans as Mr. Posh Spice, who was so vilified after the 1998 World Cup that he was hanged in effigy in quite a few places in his native country!).  Also, quite a few of this movie's sequences are reminiscent of other Hong Kong movies.  For example, the hi-tech ("Virtual Reality") training sessions that CS and Tango go through (to better prepare them to rescue Blue) look like what the makers of "Black Cat" had sought to do, albeit on a much lower budget and several years older technology.  And it really is difficult for this viewer -- and I am sure others -- to watch two heroes' pursuit of a villain through the Malaysian capital city that involves an aerial "tour" plus a motorbike without thinking of "Supercop"'s climactic chase sequence (especially when one realizes that Jackie Chan is the producer of HOT WAR!).
Terence Yin
Perhaps the Hong Kong movie that I have seen that this 1998 production most reminds me of is the equally cyber-tech-oriented, global jet setting, cool-and-slick-looking "Downtown Torpedoes" (which also starred
Jordan Chan).  While I like that 1997 effort, I thought that it did not have as much heart and soul as many older, lower budget and grainy filmed Hong Kong classics.  This criticism is even more valid with regards to HOT WAR.  While it has a polished looks, it more specifically, the characters and plots -- lacks depth.  Also, and this is not only with regards to its color scheme, it lacks warmth.  Frankly, if HOT WAR is a taken as a sign as well as evidence of where Hong Kong (action) movies are heading, I fear that the industry (a number of whose products I have grown to love and respect) truly is -- or will be in trouble, or definitely has become a pale shade of its previous vibrant self.
This is not to say that there are no elements in this work which represent signs that the characteristically Hong Kong movie outlook and spirit remain, and from which I consequently do take some comfort and pleasure.  Among them:  The presence of women who are not only in the picture because they are the girlfriend or wife of the lead(s) (although, disturbingly, Kelly Chen gives Ekin Cheng the kind of look at one point that, in truth, I have previously only seen in American movies); the willingness to kill off sympathetic characters; and the inclusion of small moving scenes involving men which show that they (not just women) definitely have a emotional side to their characters (It says a lot about the acting ability of Jordan Chan vis a vis Ekin Cheng though that a scene of this sort acted out by one of them comes across as very touching while another in which the other figures just comes across as trite).  Now if only there had been more of them...
Kelly Chen

My rating for the film:  6.5.