After experiencing the boorish and juvenile jingoism of Wu Jing’s Wolf Warrior, I was looking forward to the new big budget HK movie, Helios… although I was a bit wary of the fact that its release date had been put back three times in the past six months. From directors Sunny Luk and Longman Leung (Cold War), Helios starts well but fades quickly.
The film opens with the theft of a South Korean manufactured nuclear dirty bomb. Its code name is DC8 and it fits nicely into a medium-sized travel case. Helios (Chang Chen) is the name of the terrorist responsible for the robbery, and with his partner, Messenger (Janice Man), he plans to auction the bomb in Hong Kong.
The South Korean political and military leaders are desperate to recover both the DC8 and some of their wounded pride. A trio of top security officers is dispatched to Hong Kong when their masters hear about the cyber auction. Two of the agents are played by well known media figures: actor Jee Jin-hee (Dong Yi) and pop star Choi Siwon.
In Hong Kong, the authorities are mortified that a weapon of this nature is in the city — and are more interested in getting the bomb out of Hong Kong than catching the criminals involved. A special unit is formed with Inspector Eric Lee (Nick Cheung) in charge: an old-school cop who favours brawn over brain. Shawn Yu plays his 2I.C., Fan Ka-Ming.
Popular Canto entertainer Jacky Cheung is university professor Su Chin-Yan, an advisor to the Hong Kong government on terrorism issues. He brings an unusually thoughtful and considered approach to the current crisis — which from the outset puts him off-side with the rest of the team.
Once the auction is finished, the bomb is to be delivered to the successful bidder. In a tense and well-staged action sequence the handover of this device devolves into a violent shambles with the result that the bomb finds its way into the hands of the police. A decision is made for the Koreans to take this nuclear device back to Seoul as soon as possible.
But Helios has other plans, and he demands to be given the DC8 or Hong Kong will, literally, become a city on fire. A brutal taste of this threat appalls Inspector Lee and his group.
So far, so good: the film is an entertaining blend of drama and suspense. Enter Song An (Wang Xueqi), a high-level Beijing official who arrives in Hong Kong to take control of the terrorist situation. It’s no surprise that he’s initially depicted as a secretive and imperious Communist Party apparatchik. But for some unexplained reason the filmmakers present Song An in a terrible light, and ultimately he’s seen as a figure of derision. (In the session in which I saw this film, some of the Chinese audience present couldn’t stop laughing at him and what he was saying, although the humour wasn’t reflected in the subtitles.)
Where this really affects the film is that Song An becomes a central player in the narrative, and the South Korean and Hong Kong officials seem unwilling to challenge any of his plans to thwart the terrorists.
It’s about now that Helios and Messenger become the most interesting characters in the movie. At least they know what they’re doing and go about their bloody business in the most single-minded way. Plus, at times the two completely outwit the security forces of at least three major Asian countries.
As a drama, Helios might well be on life support — but as for the film’s action sequences, they are something else! A great example of this is a foot chase through the backstreets of Macau, with Officer Lee desperately trying to apprehend Messenger. I won’t give too much away here but I doubt you’ll see a better choreographed or more exciting flight-and-fight sequence this year in an Asian or Hollywood pic. This superb passage of film is from action choreographer Chin Ka-Lok (Motorway, Firestorm). One of the best in the business!
On a sundry note, fans of Hong Kong cinema will enjoy a cameo from Paul Fonoroff (the American born, Chinese film reviewer for the South China Morning Post) as a shady executive of a security company. And there’s also veteran Canto actress Josephine Koo (The Queen of Temple Street) in a short but memorable role as a Macau restaurant proprietor.
The film’s final scenes take place in Japan and involves Song An and his merry band of Glock-toting automata. With more questions left unanswered than answered in the closing minutes of this movie, a sequel (or even a Helios franchise!) looks to be in the pipeline.