The long-awaited sequel to the excellent 2005 crime-action drama Sha Po Lang (SPL) has finally been released – and what a truly disappointing film it turns out to be. Flash Point is one of the cinema’s low points for 2007.
Flash Point is a lazy and unoriginal movie with routine performances from major HK stars and a storyline culled from recent Chinese crime flicks. Plus the near unbelievable fact that this high budget thriller was filmed on digital video. The digital image of Hong Kong and its surrounds has a bleached anaemic look. Gone are the deep primary colors of SPL which were so distinctive and reminiscent of the great American and European noir thrillers.
The wafer thin storyline revolves around a torturous relationship between an undisciplined HK police officer, Inspector Ma (Donnie Yen) and a triad enforcer, Wilson (Louis Koo), who has become a trusted lieutenant to one of Hong Kong’s most feared crime figures, Archer (Ray Liu). Soon Ma and a trio of Vietnamese gangsters become locked in a violent blood feud. For a genre pic this sounds OK, but it’s the execution which is so mechanical – it’s like watching cogs engage.
It’s good to see veteran Cantonese actor Kent Cheng (Crime Story, Once Upon a Time in China) back on screen, but his role and fate in this film is straight out of Infernal Affairs. Ray Liu who can be a powerful screen performer (as shown in the award-winning crime saga To Be Number One) is only allowed to scowl and chew on a cigar. As for co-star Louis Koo, he is just embarrassing. There is nothing in Flash Point that can be compared to the powerhouse peformances given by Sammo Hung and Simon Yam in SPL.
However, the only returning star of SPL, Donnie Yen is the star of Flash Point. His role and martial arts skills makes him the central figure of this narrative. This will please many of his fans but his martial arts work is sub-par compared with SPL: the main reason being there’s no Jacky Wu or similiar talent to bring out the best in Yen. The “laneway” fight between Yen and Wu in SPL has become legendary in martial arts movies – there’s nothing in Flash Point that even gets close to this. The uber-cool sculpted look which director Yip created for Yen to great effect in SPL has been replaced by a more haggard, snarling Yen with way too many close-ups of his bloodied face.
The action choreography is pretty much by rote, there’s hardly anything new and the action sequences go for too long. The final showdown is a prolonged series of on-the-run battles involving cars, shotguns and fists, with one section blatantly ripping off Johnnie To’s Exiled.
I would really like to hear the gossip surrounding this film beacause I strongly suspect director Wilson Yip didn’t play a big part in this production. For someone who made such a good job of the original – Flash Point just isn’t in the same universe. It’s also very interesting to see where the film’s principal producer is Nansun Shi (Tsui Hark’s wife) and I wouldn’t be surprised if the creative hand of Hark had been involved in much of this movie.
As a Donnie Yen vehicle, Flash Point is passable entertainment, but as a sequel to a great film like Sha Po Lang – it’s insulting!