Anyways, my group and I barely got in, as apparently they handed out way too many passes for the screening. I think about 50 people were turned away as the 300 seat theater filled up to max. capacity. As for the demographics of the audience, I guess it was a pretty good mix of white/Asian/Hispanic/black folk, with a male/female ratio about 60/40. Most seemed to be in their teens or twenties. I also recognized some industry types in there, including the director James Foley, producer Terence Chang and the Asian-American actor who played Bobby Vu (the chief mad dog villain), Byron Mann, who also starred in Red Corner and Streetfighter. It wasn't hard to spot these guys, as they came in later than everyone else since the nice seats were reserved for them. Once all the seats filled up, a guy (from New Line? Don't know) came up to the front, introduced the movie, said stuff like it was still unfinished, some of the special effects and sound is incomplete, blah, blah, blah. And the movie got rollin'.
Now what can I say, I'm a big Chow Yun Fat fan. I've seen all the classics (the Killer, Hardboiled, Better Tomorrows) and even some lessor known obscurities like Seventh Curse and Treasure Hunt. This man radiates coolness in every movie he's in, regardless of how good or crappy the films are. His movie star qualities - good looks, charm, sense of humor, easy-going manner, etc. - would surely be noticed by Hollywood, I thought, and I was right. After the disappointing Replacement Killers though, I wondered if his screen charisma could transcend the language barrier due to his (let's face it) stinky English.
Well, the answer is yes (somewhat). I don't know if he was trying to make up for the nearly emotionless and dialogue-unfriendly performance in the Replacement Killers, but in this movie, he talks. And talks and talks. And also acts. Pretty damn impressive, I must say, considering he's only been speaking English for a few years now. His accent, though, is still pretty thick and there's a good chance you'll miss a lot of what he's saying (which doesn't help as he's the lead protagonist). Hopefully they'll have him reloop some of his dialogue (either that or put in subtitles) during the key acting scenes.
The story revolves around the Asian Gang Unit (AGU) in New York's 15th Police Precinct in the heart of Chinatown. Chow leads his small gang of officers in fighting the Fukinese Dragons, an ultraviolent street gang led by Bobby Vu, the blond-hair streaked psycho leader who likes to shoot people even after they're dead. Anyways, a war apparently is brewing between the FD and the older generation Tongs, and Chow's got his hands full. Enter Marky Mark as the newest member of the AGU assigned to Chow's team, and the usual cliched scenes of veteran cop breaking in the rookie partner ensues. The movie concentrates on the relationship between the two supercops, as well as the action scenes. Some of the quieter scenes worked just as well as the intense and LOUD action scenes, thanks to Chow and Mark's believable performances and their interaction with each other. What didn't work all that well, though, was the story that was chock full of subplots and characters that didn't seem suitable for a two hour movie. Within that short time, there's just no way you can cram in that many characters and relationships and have the audience care about them, unless you're LA Confidential, but that's the rare exception. With the exception of Mark's relationship with his ex-cop dad, who's now a gambling addict owing money to the mob, the rest of the subplots were uninvolving and really dragged the movie down.
On the plus side however, there's a lot to recommend in this movie. The performances by Mark and Chow were top notch. There's a priceless scene near the beginning where Chow gleefully goes nuts beating up the "Fuckinese Dragons"(as he calls them) in their hangout after they killed some officers during a whorehouse raid, reminding me of the Chow from the John Woo glory days. The action scenes are intense and very satisfying (if you're an action junkie like me), over-the-top yet realistic, and had a Hong Kong thriller feel to them. If you've seen violent HK thrillers like The Big Heat and On the Run, you'll know what I'm talking about - point blank shootings, bullet hits to the head spraying brain matter everywhere, machine gun executions, etc. Chow aims for the head in this one more than in his previous movies. For the die hard fans, there IS a shot of our homeboy firing his trademark two guns, although it's way too brief.
But the definite highlight has to be that FRIGGIN' AWESOME CAR CHASE in the middle of the flick that takes no prisoners in its sheer recklessness and disregard for human life. Chow and Mark are chasing the bad guys who just shot up the place they were staking out, and this 5 minute sequence consists of high speed mayhem, automatic weapons firing, mass destruction of cars, property, and life. Chow (while driving) and Mark (leaning out of passenger window) fire their weapons endlessly and simultaneously at the FD punk in the car they're after firing outside at every pedastrian and motorist to slow these guys down. This ultra-violent sequence ends with a payoff soooooooo satisfying and unbelievable that my jaw dropped to the floor. Very cool, that's all I will say.
It's pretty doubtful they'll release this print as their final cut. Some of the graphic sex scenes and violence seemed to shock a lot of the audience members, and they'll probably trim these excessive scenes along with some awkward moments like when Chow does some heavy breathing/Tai Chi exercise in the men's room. I hope they restore it for the Director's Cut DVD though. I really liked how ruthless and vicious Chow came across in some of the action scenes against the Dragons. The score was a temp-track, mostly from The Crow, but it suit the film and atmosphere well. I also dug the Chinese song during the opening credits and the gangsta rap playing whenever the FD homeboys showed up.
All in all, a highly enjoyable police thriller in the style of Year of the Dragon and City on Fire. Much better acting and drama than the Replcement Killers but not as satisfying as The Killer or Hardboiled. I'll definitely watch it again paying full admission price when it opens next year. I just hope they edit and streamline some of the confusing subplots to flow well with the overall flick.
Keep up the great work guys. This is Uncle Benny signing off.