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Speed Angels

Speed Angels

Han Jae-Suk and Tang Wei in Speed Angels.

Chinese: 極速天使  
Year: 2012  
Director: Jingle Ma Chor-Sing
Action: Li Chung-Chi
Cast: Tang Wei, Rene Liu, Cecilia Cheung Pak-Chi, Han Jae-Suk, Jimmy Lin, Chie Tanaka, Kazuki Kitamura, Cheng Yi, Jiang Wu, He Jiong
The Skinny: So purple and so predictable. Speed Angels is blazingly commercial and blazingly bad, wasting tons of talent and furthering the notion that director Jingle Ma is a competent gun-for-hire and nothing more. Sadly, he wrote and produced Speed Angels too. Tang Wei's cute dorkiness is appealing, but let's hope this is a one-off.
by Kozo:

Speed Angels is unsurprisingly terrible, and never reaches the depths of badness that would make it inadvertently entertaining. However, the film is also so predictable, so saccharine and so pandering to its demographic that something about it remains fascinating. Besides the overdone purple color scheme, that is. Directed by bland commercial director Jingle Ma, Speed Angels stars a slumming Tang Wei as Xiaoyi, a daredevil taxi driver who joins all-female, all-purple racing team “Speed Angels” when their super-handsome coach Gaofeng (dreamy K-drama star Han Jae-Suk) takes a spin in her cab. She helps him catch some bastards speeding away with his bag of cash, and after seeing her fearlessly race and even display some kung-fu, he hires her to partner with established driver Bing (Rene Liu) for the upcoming Asia Heroine Race. The stakes: some money, but more important, the ability to pay for Bing’s sister’s medical bills.

Bing's ailing sister is only the first of the film's character issues. Blaming herself for her sister’s condition, Bing has become an alcoholic and absolutely hates former Speed Angel Mei (Cecilia Cheung) for stealing her fiancé Asano (Kazuki Kitamura). Also, with her sister's health at stake, she's incensed that Gaofeng would partner her with a taxi-driving amateur. Xiaoyi has problems too: despite being super-talented, she gets performance anxiety when racing, begins crushing on Gaofeng and has ongoing daddy issues. She also wears ugly purple headbands and has a fashion victim mother (Cheng Pei-Pei in garish yellow frames), but one thing at a time. More problems: Gaofeng supposedly won't date racers because of his past history with Japanese racer Sanoka (Chie Tanaka), and Mei denies that Asano is a complete scumbag (Duh, he has to be, he's played by Kazuki Kitamura.). There's even a mole inside Speed Angels sabotaging their chances at the upcoming race. The only thing that isn't going on: a terminal disease.

But who knows, maybe the film originally featured one. Knowing Jingle Ma, who's credited as writer, director, producer and probably Master of the Universe™, he probably planned on shoehorning in another subplot before realizing that the film was already pushing two hours. Too bad he didn't cut further, because his plotlines are clichéd and utterly predictable – and there are so many of them! This is the stuff of maudlin idol dramas, from mismatched lovers and self-inflicted trauma to perfunctory daddy issues, two-timing boyfriends, and girls who compete over love while also competing over something else. Probably the most original or inspired thing about Speed Angels is the casting of Tang Wei, who's never acted in a film with so little artistic cred. She performs gamely, doing the "cute girl" thing with irritating but eventually endearing dorkiness, and she rocks that purple headband with pride. Rene Liu overacts her tortured role while Cecilia Cheung just appears. The Pan-Asian cast is interesting because it exists, and not because of their actual performances.

Where Speed Angels has the chance to shine is with its female racers because Hong Kong or China seldom (if ever) produce racing dramas with female protagonists. There's an opportunity here for strong characters, but unfortunately the women are mostly defined by their relationships with men, who fit tiresome cookie-cutter stereotypes. The racing is almost entirely CGI, and while the filmmakers do their best to hide the budget, they do such a bad job that getting taken out of the film is fait accompli. Jingle Ma loads the film with flashy montage and other mediated storytelling, but leaves the heavy lifting to his saccharine emotional beats, which occur like clockwork. A girl talks fondly about her prized keepsake? It reappears later to encourage her. Someone talks about how a [bad] country-western song soothes them? It’s used during a pivotal moment to solve their problems. Someone mentions a nifty racing technique? It’s the key to winning a race. There's a screenplay skeleton here, but without any meat, the whole thing remains thin.

The fascinating portion of Speed Angels is how it conforms so greatly to idol drama tropes that one can call the whole film while watching it – right down to every narrative beat and plot twist. Seriously, you should make a drinking game of Speed Angels because it’s that predictable. Tech credits are attractive and bland as expected from a Jingle Ma film. Spaces are clean, costumes are faux-trendy (Except the headbands. What is up with the headbands?), some characters are egregiously cute and any dark issues are swept away or reversed such that everyone can play nice at the end. The film so resembles a clichéd soap opera that one can almost see a certain audience enjoying it – though they probably know that Speed Angels is a bad movie, too. Conventional soap opera plotting works in dramas because we get 20+ episodes to acquaint ourselves with the characters. In a movie there is no such luxury, so the filmmakers had better surprise us, tell a good story or hopefully both. Speed Angels does neither so it’s just a waste of time. (Kozo, 2012)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Panorama (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital EX
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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image credit: Golden Scene Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen