Let’s get what plot there is over with quickly. The story takes place pre-Handover as a comforting on-screen message informs us upfront – as if this could never take place in the present under the watchful eyes of the government and also likely to help get the film play in the Mainland. Three refugee brothers from Vietnam (two of them being 80’s stalwarts – Ray Lui and Colin Chou, aka Ngai Sing who had the classic fight with Jet Li in Bodyguard from Beijing) aren’t satisfied with their criminal piece of Hong Kong and want more – much more. Their only redeeming characteristic is a devoted love for their elderly mom (Ha Ping), but otherwise they have no compunction in killing or maiming anyone in their path. Rival gang head Ben Lam (another 80’s B action film star) is the first targeted, but a number of other gang heads are also in their sights. Trying to bring the trio down is the expressionless Inspector Ma (Donnie Yen) a Hong Kong Dirty Harry who also loves his mom (Helen Law Lan) but doesn’t put a lot of stock in the civil rights of criminals. His partner Wilson (Louis Koo) has infiltrated the gang and between the two of them and their boss (yet another star from the 80’s, Kent Cheng) they plan to bring them to justice – but all their plans go wrong and they finally have to resort to what they do best – vengeful kick ass action – and lot’s of it.
Yen – and I direct it to him because honestly this feels much more his film than Wilson Yip’s – smartly builds up the action slowly with a few quick snapshots in the first half that act only as a warm up for what is going to come and gives us just enough character development to care about the good guys. In the final forty minutes he just lets it go – a near non-stop rampage of action with a terrific one on one fight between Donnie and a bad guy on the streets of Hong Kong, a tense shoot out in a field of hay and then the final encounter between Yen and Chou that will have your heart caught in your throat – an astonishingly brutal wonderfully choreographed fight in which they occasionally just pause to recapture their breath and their senses before charging one another again. I was only sorry to see this in a theater because I couldn’t immediately replay the entire sequence. Donnie Yen certainly has had his detractors over the years – and as usual his acting is so monotone here that it barely passes as acting – but no one anymore is staging action like he has in this film and in SPL (where he plays this same character). Most action now in Hong Kong is basically all super wire enhanced with much of the work being done in the editing room because the new actors simply aren’t trained for this type of thing – but Donnie still brings on the real deal and every now and then we need that to remind us just how great Hong Kong action used to be when it ruled the world.
My rating for this film: 7.5