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Fatal Contact

(left) Wu Jing threatens Kris Gu, and (right) Wu Jing and Ronald Cheng go at it.
AKA: Underground Fist
Chinese: 黑拳
Year: 2006
Director: Dennis S.Y. Law
Producer: Dennis S.Y. Law, Herman Yau Lai-To
Writer: Dennis S.Y. Law
Action: Li Chung-Chi
Cast: Wu Jing, Ronald Cheng Chung-Kei, Miki Yeung Oi-Gan, Theresa Fu Wing, Eddie Cheung Siu-Fai, Lam Suet, Kris Gu Yu, Ken Lo Wai-Kwong, Timmy Hung Tin-Ming, Andy On Chi-Kit, Johnny Chen (Lu Sze-Ming), Xing Yu, Marco Lok Lik-Wai, Tats Lau Yi-Tat, Hui Siu-Hung
  The Skinny: Dennis Law's action-drama doesn't skimp on the action or the drama, but the quality of both are at opposite extremes. Ronald Cheng's comic timing and Wu Jing's martial arts prowess are the highlights here, and should please fans of either. However, fans of actual good films should keep their expectations low.
by Kozo:

After last year's SPL, Wu Jing became the odds-on pick for Hong Kong martial arts movie superstardom. Jackie Chan is aging, Jet Li is retiring (yeah, right), Zhao Wen-Zhou never quite made it, and Donnie Yen is, well, Donnie Yen. Fans of nuts-and-bolts martial arts action need a new hero, and Wu Jing's combination of likability and actual martial arts skills makes him seem like the obvious choice. Apparently, director Dennis Law and Gold Label megaproducer Paco Wong thought so too, lining up Wu Jing to star in Fatal Contact - arguably Wu's first starring role in a Hong Kong movie since Tai Chi 2 back in 1996 (Wu Jing also starred in 2003's Drunken Monkey, but that was more of an ensemble piece than a solo work). Law and Wong have also given Wu a partner: Ronald Cheng, best known for his over-the-top antics in such films as Dragon Loaded 2003 and Himalaya Singh. Could Cheng potentially ruin Wu Jing's bid for martial arts cinema greatness?

Shocker alert: Ronald Cheng doesn't ruin Fatal Contact. In fact, the sometimes maligned funnyman pretty much steals the show, and may even be the best thing about the film. Cheng plays the "Captain", a dopey low-level triad assigned to take care of Kong (Wu Jing), the new star fighter on the underground boxing circuit. Kong is a martial arts champion on China's national team, who's touring Hong Kong when he's spotted by triad bastard Ma (Eddie Cheung). Ma wants Kong to fight for him in underground boxing matches, but Kong says no because, well, it's illegal and it could get him kicked off the Chinese team. However, Kong does a 180 when he's urged to try illegal boxing by Siu Tin (Miki Yeung of Cookies), a sweet girl who admires Kong's way with his fists. Kong admires Miki's toothy smile and leggy way of wearing her shorts, so he joins up and automatically becomes the toast of the underground circuit. He begins earning serious bank, which gets routinely inflated by Siu Tin's negotiation tactics.

But problems arise in Kong's journey through the dark side of boxing. Kong may be a skilled fighter, but he's also more of a showman than a down-and-dirty brawler. Noticing his lack of killer instinct, Captain begins tutoring him in the finer points of being a meaner fighter. Meanwhile, hanging out with triads means contact with lots of bad stuff. Siu Tin and Kong's pal Tsuichi (Theresa Fu, also of Cookies) shows up at some of Kong's matches, but her life has descended into prostitution, a fact that irks Siu Tin to no end. Also, Kong's challengers begin to improve in both skill and willingness to use chicanery. After a while, exposure to such seedy people and circumstances starts to take its toll on Kong. Luckily, he has Siu Tin's love, and Captain's friendship to help him along. With his support group behind him, Kong should be able to make a killing then return to his life as a national champion, right?

Wrong. Getting involved in illegal activities means that Kong can pretty much kiss his government sponsorship goodbye, and that's not the end to the bad stuff going on in this film. The presence of Ronald Cheng and a couple of Cookies would seem to signal a lightweight time at the movies, but Fatal Contact instead turns out to be dark and even punishing. Kong and Siu Tin begin to sink further into an illegal, amoral world, and the effects take their toll. Siu Tin, whose love for Kong initially seems tempered by material desire, soon graduates from practical money-minder to full-on golddigger. Her cynical values can best be seen in her relationship with Tsuichi, which is revealed in long dialogue exchanges between the two Cookies where one admonishes the other for letting her life go to crap. The lesson dispensed is basically to be harder and smarter, and make all the money you need while you can. That opportunism, however, is not necessarily a positive thing. Pragmatism is all well and good, but getting involved with bad people and illegal things can send you straight to hell - and eventually, that's the lesson that Fatal Contact seems to be forcing upon us. Wasn't this supposed to be a fun movie?

Well, it is, though only in doses. The fighting certainly is fun, and serves up enough creative choreography and painful impact to warrant the film a partial recommendation. Li Chung-Chi's action is grounded and mostly free of wires, and is certainly a step up from the overly-choreographed ballet-type stuff typifying most Asian Cinema of late. Wu Jing brings power and poise to the action sequences, and easily convinces the audience of his ability to kick ass. The big surprise is Ronald Cheng, who handles his few fight scenes with a surprising agility. Cheng is also the comedy relief, but his character isn't just a wacky sidekick. Captain is a hidden martial arts master, meaning that he dispenses both the wisecracks and the sage wisdom, frequently in the same scenes. It's an odd mix, as Fatal Contact is more of an action drama than an action comedy, and when Cheng is onscreen, it's practically like he's in a different film. But his character is fun and charismatic, and easily the audience favorite. Who doesn't like a cheerfully sardonic martial arts master who remains upbeat even in the face of murder and other evil acts? Basically, the film builds to a point where you just want Cheng to cut loose and take down people in a blaze of righteous comic fury.

However, that expected outcome never comes to pass. Cheng is only a high-billed supporting player; the entire film really belongs to Wu Jing and Miki Yeung, and when Cheng isn't on screen, the film sags beneath predictable melodrama. The general theme behind the film is that greed and chicanery are red flag signs on the road to ruin, and the director Dennis Law does a decent job of nudging us in that direction, even with the comedy presence of Ronald Cheng fooling us into thinking we might have a fun time at this movie. However, Law neglects subtlety in his script, and fails to get his actors to do anything besides recite their lines with supposedly serious expressions. Wu Jing gets to display an innocent likability as well as an explosive anger, and the actor is impressive in that he makes an impact with both personalities. However, much of the real drama is handled by the Cookies, and they falter. Part of the problem is that one of them, Theresa Fu, is little more than a plot device who plays sounding board to the increasingly burdened conscience of the other. Miki Yeung gets to handle most of the drama, and gets the thankless task of selling the film's tough existentialism through copious dialogue. Not surprisingly, it proves too much for the actress. In the past, Yeung has shown a bright screen presence as well as some hidden depth, but she can't convince here.

Dennis Law's screenplay and direction don't help much. Law's script features pages of thematic pontificating masquerading as dialogue; the script practically calls attention to itself with its own self-importance. Law's direction is also too obvious, choosing to verbalize when he could just present things visually. Characters spend a lot of time talking about hopes, dreams, values, and other stuff, but seldom do we actually see any of this demonstrated. When characters finally do spring into action, it's only to bring the film to its foregone, unsatisfying conclusion. Fatal Contact has the tools to be a good film, but it takes its disparate elements and uses them incorrectly. The bad stuff is elaborated and focused on, while the good stuff is only intermittently glimpsed. That said, the good stuff can at least please the fans of either Wu Jing or Ronald Cheng, who should get their fix of action, comedy, or maybe even both. But those looking for an out-and-out good movie may be heavily disappointed. What's even more disappointing is that Wu Jing has yet to take the lead role in an actual good film, and Fatal Contact doesn't change that. At the very least, Wu will be returning soon in 2007's Let's Steal Together, though he'll be supporting the Twins in that film. It seems solo superstardom for Wu Jing is something we still have to wait for. (Kozo 2006)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Garry's Trading Co.
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

images courtesy of Chinastar Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen