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Born Wild
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"We're not wearing any pants!"

Beefcake! Louis Koo, Daniel Wu and Patrick Tam on Born Wild promotional art.
Chinese: 野獸之瞳  
Year: 2001  
Director: Patrick Leung Pak-Kin  
Writer: Chan Hing-Kai  
Action: Yuen Tak, Mars  
Cast: Louis Koo Tin-Lok, Daniel Wu, Patrick Tam Yiu-Man, Jo Koo, Phyllis Quek (Kwok Fei-Lai), Wrath White, Pai Ying, John Chang Kuo-Chu, Arthur Wong Ngok-Tai, Felix Lok Ying-Kwan, Lawrence Cheng Tan-Shui, Ron Smoorenburg
The Skinny: Boxing drama/male-bonding weepie from the men who gave you Task Force and the quite similar Somebody Up There Likes Me. Well made with some fine performances (Patrick Tam and Jo Kuk), the film also suffers from mind-numbing existentialism and an emotionally-bereft payoff. Smaller parts of Born Wild make it worth seeing, but the whole is questionably above average.
by Kozo:

One of these days someone should take writer Chan Hing-Kai aside and ask what he smokes when he writes his movies. The celebrated collaborator of Gordon Chan is also credited with the script for A Better Tomorrow—which may explain his cinematic obsessions. Born Wild is primo homoerotic stuff, and glorifies the male form to large excess. Those seeking the bare chests of hot stars Daniel Wu and Louis Koo will be happy with this film. However, those seeking actual filmmaking may be somewhat disappointed. Born Wild is superficially developed, and really doesn't cohere as a complete motion picture. But hey, everyone sure looks great!

Wu is Tide, who's informed one day that his fraternal twin Tan (an appropriate name for a Louis Koo character) is dead. Seeking answers, he digs into his slightly older brother's life and finds a "wild" life which differs from that of the more reserved Tide. Tan was an underground boxer who earned big bucks fighting for the amusement of affluent—and morally bankrupt—individuals. Through flashback, we discover that Tan was led into the life by his manager Man (Patrick Tam), and shared a fiery relationship with his girlfriend Sandy (Jo Kuk of The Longest Summer). Tide meets these individuals post Tan's death, and discovers them to be damaged by their relationships with his departed brother. Seeking closure (or a cure to his boredom), Tide goes about resolving every plot thread left hanging by the departed Tan.

Asking the audience to invest emotion into the life of Tide and Tan (it sounds like a surf-and-turf restaurant) is probably where Chan Hing-Kai and Patrick Leung make their biggest errors. Unlike the duo's 1997 film Task Force, Born Wild does not possess engaging characters. And, unlike their 1996 collaboration Somebody Up There Likes Me, the film is not given to a compelling (albeit manufactured) narrative. No, Born Wild is existential in all the wrong ways. Obvious metaphor is supposed to create depth, but it only succeeds at being cloying or even silly. And even the film's final action sequence is mystifyingly unnecessary. Tide decides to try and beat his brother's killer, a nameless, faceless foreign fighter who serves no purpose other than to be an imposing figure for Tide to pummel. Or maybe it's another metaphor.

Eventually, we get to learn through a fabulous MTV fight sequence just what's driving Tide. Apparently, he's chasing his brother's shadow. Or, he's trying to understand just why they're so different. Or, maybe he just doesn't have his own life, and must walk around in his brother's. To be honest, it probably doesn't really matter what drives Tide, because it's likely that you won't even care. Born Wild asks that you invest emotion into a primary conflict that serves no true interest, and actors who aren't terribly interesting. Daniel Wu, while a nice enough kid, really doesn't embody Tide very well, and Louis Koo is given very little to do as Tan. Koo fills Tan with the requisite presence, but his character doesn't go father than that. Tan is the film's biggest plot device; he's a character that's supposed to represent "something" to all the other characters. What that "something" is a mystery best solved by the most motivated of cinematic readers.

But, there are positives to Born Wild. Patrick Tam turns in a remarkable performance as Man, showing off an emotional range and depth of character which his co-stars simply cannot touch. Tam's work was probably the finest supporting performance of any Hong Kong actor in 2001, and he rightfully deserves whatever accolades he received. Likewise, Jo Kuk shows that she's capable of more than "flower vase" roles, and turns in a compelling, guileless performance. Those who actually give a damn about non pop-stars should see Born Wild simply for the two of them. Assuming Hong Kong Cinema has a future, more prominent roles should be given to both.

Of course, nobody needs to say that for Daniel Wu or Louis Koo, who have enough going for them. Koo has a fine screen presence, and continues to score big roles. And Jackie Chan has Daniel Wu's back, so no one needs to worry about him. If anyone should worry it's Chan Hing-Kai, who's starting to run out of tricks in his magic bag. He's written or co-written some of Hong Kong's best genre cinema (Task Force and Beast Cops, to name two), but his tricks are getting old. How often must we watch male characters examine their lives in uncomfortably overt ways? Hopefully, the answer is not much more. Born Wild might have been better received six years ago, as its narrative excess could have worked to Chan's favor. It could have been seen as proof of his creativity instead of evidence that he's begun to scrape the bottom of his barrel. (Kozo 2001/2002)


21st Annual Hong Kong Film Awards
• Nomination - Best Supporting Actor (Patrick Tam Yiu-Man)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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image courtesy of Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen