Friday, March 14, 2008

Fantastic Fest - Wilson Yip's FLASH POINT

Not that I planned on it being Martial Arts/Fantastic Fest Week here at HQ 10, but hey, sometimes inspiration just kinda takes over and you simply have to run with it. That, and I likes the kicking and the punching.

One of my top titles for Fantastic Fest last year was to be Wilson Yip's FLASH POINT, the excitement for which was based almost single-handedly on 2005's S.P.L., the previous film from writer/director Yip and star Donnie Yen. S.P.L. (released here as KILL ZONE) wasn't especially ground-breaking, but it was a hell of a lot of fun and felt like a great return to form for the Hong Kong cop movie (a reputable genre, if you ask me) and of the martial arts movie, as it contained some of the best fight scenes in any movie (especially the climatic battle between Yen and Sammo Hung) in the past decade. It was also something of a comeback for Yip, who started out making wonderful character-based films like BULLETS OVER SUMMER and JULIET IN LOVE that were both commercial and personal, before such disastrous works as SKYLINE CRUISERS made me write him off almost for good. I was warned off Yip and Yen's follow-up, DRAGON TIGER GATE (based on a manga), but FLASH POINT had all of the signs of another S.P.L.: Donnie Yen and Louis Koo (an excellent actor who also starred in BULLETS OVER SUMMER) in another cops vs. criminals story told in the days before the 1997 handover, with fight scenes choreographed by Yen, all of them using no CG assistance. Like S.P.L., the plot isn't anything new and is just an excuse for moving the action scenes from point A to point B, but unlike S.P.L. the character stuff is very routine (Yen avenging the death of his fellow cops yet again), so the fight scenes, which are extremely well done and more or less worth the wait, have less impact on the audience. And though it pains me to admit this - because I do like the guy - but as great a martial artist as he is, Donnie Yen really isn't much of an actor. In S.P.L. he shared the screen with Sammo Hung and Simon Yam, so he didn't have to carry it on his own, but though Koo is fine here, Yen's self-impressed loner cop bit isn't enough to make the movie. This said, I don't want to give the impression that I'm totally down on FLASH POINT because in the end it does deliver enough to make it worth the time of most H.K. action fans, and if you like your movies with lots of kicking and punching you don't really have to look elsewhere. But it's not anything truly special and I'd hoped for something more from Yip and Yen (both now filming a biography of Ip Man, Bruce Lee's master), but I'm not going to totally write this one off because it's fun enough for at least one look.

The reason why I'm bringing FLASH POINT up today is because it's actually opened in a limited theatrical release in NYC, L.A. and San Francisco, and while I'm not exactly over the moon about the movie itself, I'm extremely pleased to see this release happening at all, limited as it is. The trend over the past few years has been that most films like this might play some festivals (FLASH POINT premiered in the Midnight Madness selection at Toronto a few weeks before Fantastic Fest last September) and then maybe, just maybe, someone would pick it up (ohhhh, the Weinsteins, for example) and then sit on it for over a year before getting shunted off to DVD with little to no publicity. But in this case, the turnaround time is pretty quick and though this is just a promotional opportunity for the DVD (already scheduled for June, I think), at least it's going to get its shot. Believe it or not, the company doing the distributing is indeed the Weinsteins themselves, who've started a smaller outlet called Third Rail Releasing for those smaller films that could use the push but aren't big enough to go wide. I never thought I'd live to see the day when I praised the Weinsteins for something, but I've got to say I love that fans can see this kind of movie on the big screen, even if it is only for a week or so. The timing issue of this is also important, because even though FLASH POINT (which opened in China in August) has been available on region-free DVD in Hong Kong for a few months (and can be found on mostly illegal download sites), it's not so wide-spread at this point that it could kill any chances FLASH POINT could have at (gasp!) making them a little money. If they'd opened this in October or November it would have been a much smarter move, but hey, they're finally learning how to do this stuff right, so I'll give them a little slack until their next fuck-up, which I'm sure will probably happen sooner rather than later. Now if only the movie were a little better...

So here's the trailer to FLASH POINT. Lots of mouth-watering action, to be sure, but mouth-watering action does not a motion picture make.

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