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Flash Point

(left) Donnie Yen bashes Collin Chou, and (right) Louis Koo in Flash Point.
Chinese: 導火綫  
Year: 2007  
Director: Wilson Yip Wai-Shun  
Producer: Nansun Shi, Donnie Yen Ji-Dan
Writer: Szeto Kam-Yuen, Nicholl Tang
Action: Donnie Yen Ji-Dan
Cast: Donnie Yen Ji-Dan, Louis Koo Tin-Lok, Fan Bing-Bing, Collin Chou (Ngai Sing), Ray Lui Leung-Wai, Kent Cheng Juk-Si, Xing Yu, Lam Kwok-Bun, Law Lan, Ha Ping, Timmy Hung Tin-Ming, Tony Ho Wah-Chiu, Austin Wai Tin-Chi, Ai Wai
The Skinny: For Donnie Yen fans, Flash Point is like pornography. For fight fans, it's an entertaining action blowout. For longtime Hong Kong Cinema fans, it's a throwback to poorly plotted action spectacles of the eighties. For some people, it could be a comedy.
by Kozo:

In Flash Point, Donnie Yen is the man - and don't you forget it. The action star is at his most powerful and preening in Flash Point, the third collaboration between Yen and director Wilson Yip. Unlike their previous films, SPL and Dragon Tiger Gate, Flash Point is a stripped-down action film, losing any extra flab (e.g., intricate storytelling or character history) for what amounts to an eighty-seven minute freight train of Donnie Yen goodness, starting with muscular posing and ending with an extended finale designed for Yen to apply maximum damage to his foes and his environment. Meanwhile, there's no attempt to wow us with complex emotions or narrative dexterity - basically, this movie is a straight gunshot to the heart, and does nothing fancy to subtract from its simplistic aims. The result could probably not be called a good film, but for its intended audience, Flash Point is like a dose of crack. If you're an action addict, then this movie will satiate your needs. And at least it's not pretentious.

Yen is Inspector Ma, the same protagonist from the 2005 action fan-favorite SPL. Flash Point takes place prior to Ma's involvement with Simon Yam, Sammo Hung, etc., so he's even more explosively angry than in that film, having not been tempered by his unfortunate crippling of a suspect (played in SPL by Timmy Hung, who also shows up in Flash Point as likely a different character). Ma gets vein-busting upset thanks to his new predicament: partner Wilson (Louis Koo) is on undercover assignment, and the bad guys he's assigned to are a particularly surly lot who probably would have no hesitation about offing Wilson if they knew he was a mole. Wilson is looking to bust Archer (Ray Lui), Tony (Collin Chou), and Tiger (Xing Yu, who played "Coolie" in Kung Fu Hustle), and has managed to ingratiate himself into their inner circle. However, Wilson's existence in the gang is precarious, a fact ably conveyed by Louis Koo's sweat, which oozes from his pores along with the actor's trademark overacting. The cops eventually use Wilson's intel to nab Archer, and secure numerous witnesses to testify. However, both Tony and Tiger are still on the loose, and since both are kung-fu badasses, nobody is truly safe.

However, Tony and Tiger are just kung-fu badasses, and not supreme kung-fu badasses like Inspector Ma, meaning they're doomed once the film sheds its weak plot and aims for the action. Flash Point has a simple story, littered with stock characters and situations that lack creativity and sometimes credibility. Basically, the bad guys are obvious scumbags, while the good guys are righteous do-gooders leashed by crappy bureaucracy. Ma is under investigation because he's so prone to violence, and his superior officers seem more concerned with pointless protocol instead of actual crime fighting. Events in Flash Point seldom possess any narrative cleverness; more often than not, it's the stupidity of the police force that gets the characters in continuing trouble. The witnesses sometimes have no security measures to ensure their safety, making it very easy for the bad guys to pick them off one by one. Even Ma and his loyal cop buddies are a little slow. You would think somebody would consider protecting Wilson's girlfriend (the ever-beautiful Fan Bing-Bing), as the bad guys could conceivably kidnap her to use as a bargaining chip to prevent Wilson from testifying. No dice. She's easily nabbed, leading to the film's protracted action ending, which is full of kicks and punches, but not much in the way of surprise. As storylines go, Flash Point is as routine and unimaginative as you can get.

But just when things look bleak for Flash Point, the film unleashes its ultimate asset: Donnie Yen. The Yenster shows up big time, throwing his weight around both in front of and likely behind the camera. Despite Wilson Yip's name on the film, Flash Point feels like a full-on Donnie Yen party, showing the action hero at his most glorified best. There's less obvious posing then in previous Yen-Yip collaborations, and nothing in Flash Point approaches the egregious "flailing arms" silliness of Dragon Tiger Gate. Still, when it's time for Donnie Yen to take the spotlight, he practically destroys his co-stars with his pronounced physical overacting. Yen eats up the screen during the film's climactic action finale, giving the audience a face-full of Donnie Yen acting angry, righteous, and above all, cool. The martial arts sequences seem to have two purposes: A) to entertain the audience with maximum impact, and B) to allow Donnie Yen the chance to act like a supreme, self-anointed badass. Granted, Yen does have the presence of an intense, skilled fighter, so convincing the audience of his badass status is not hard.

But can he do it without engendering laughs from more aware audience members? Unfortunately, the answer is: probably not. Donnie Yen convinces when handling action, but his charisma as an actual actor is occasionally lacking, and sometimes even veers uncomfortably into laughable territory. Yen is a remarkably showy actor, and too often appears to be aware of his own seemingly super-cool appearance - which is why it's so hard to take his screen presence seriously. In Flash Point, we get the full range of Donnie Yen overacting, especially during the final fight with Collin Chou, which feels like twenty minutes of Yen beating the crap out of someone else with little or no chance that he will actually lose. When pauses in the action do occur, it's usually for some posturing or attitude that play as non-verbal shorthand for, "Man, do I kick ass!" I believe that he probably does kick ass, but the unintentional funny factor is hard to completely ignore. Yen's movies usually seem to be as much about the star as they are about the film itself, such that they have a hard time transcending their label as mere showcases for Donnie Yen's manly image.

The above is especially true in something like Flash Point, where the storyline has been stripped down to almost nothingness. There is a certain appeal to such a routine, clutter-free narrative, as some movies like this - that is, only barely plotted action blowouts - were fan favorites back in the eighties. The film features your standard cop themes, like justice, righteousness, and how police brutality is largely excusable, but Flash Point doesn't bother to add extra weight to its proceedings. There is no "handover/reunion" pseudo-thematic stuff like in SPL, and the pathos is largely perfunctory and not felt; this movie has cops, bad guys, and lots of people getting hurt, and that's practically all the audience is made aware of. There is some minor detail involving mothers (both the bad guys and good guys care for their own), but even that becomes an afterthought. In many ways, the film fails to engage, and that could even be a plus. The filmmakers get some points for serving up high-impact action in such a no-nonsense form, and though it would have been nice had a decent story been in their game plan, the fact that there isn't means even more room for balls-to-the-wall action.

And when the action is as bone-crunching as it is here, do people really care about story? The first two-thirds of Flash Point is your basic plot set-up, introducing generic characters and generic conflicts, and the film only occasionally affects during that time. After that, it's action city, as Donnie Yen goes postal on Xing Yu in a restaurant-set showdown that could induce head trauma. After that, the film races towards its head-smashing climax, with the incredibly long one-on-one duel between Donnie Yen and Collin Chou ranking up there for high-impact bone trauma. Besides completely owning Chou with his powerful legs (Ma seems to have a thing for clamping people's necks with his scissor-like thighs), Yen repeatedly smacks Chou into whatever stationary object is nearby, e.g. cinder blocks, supporting beams, or cement walls. Following that, Chou usually writhes in pain on the floor, while Yen stands (or dances) around, waiting for Chou to get back up. Rinse and repeat. Those who like to watch someone get smashed into floors, walls, bricks, and beams while someone else prances around victoriously should get a kick out of Yen's punishment of Chou. Never has a man had more trouble with architecture or flamboyant grandstanding than Collin Chou.

It's action addicts - or maybe action film apologists - who'll find the most to like in Flash Point. This is far from good filmmaking, but its purity as screen fighting junk will make it review-proof for a good many. Sometimes people just want action, and the fighting on display in Flash Point is tough and hard enough to satisfy. Beyond that, the film is no great shakes, possessing sloppy plotting, noticeable anachronisms (the film takes place pre-Handover, but some technology is obviously 21st century), and an amount of overacting that surely taxes any tolerable quota (Donnie Yen isn't the only guilty party here). Flash Point also won't dethrone SPL as the Donnie Yen-Wilson Yip collaboration of choice, as SPL had solid acting and some actual surprise, plus it had the killer Donnie Yen-Wu Jing alleyway duel. That fight was short, sweet, and charged with an emotional energy that outshines anything here. As martial arts vehicles go, Flash Point is a satisfying enough diversion, but it could easily have been better. However, with Dragon Tiger Gate as a measure, it could also have been much, much worse. Let's count our blessings. (Kozo 2007)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc

images courtesy of Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen