Okay film-goers, let’s get going. I’ll keep this snappy, because I’m here to give you the low down on one snap-p-py piece of cinema — So Close.
Pop quiz; which HK director is responsible for this film? If your answer’s not Corey Yuen, you deserve to be beaten repeatedly with a pair of rollerblades by Zhao Wei, because his name’s right there under the title, but in the mean time, here’s a selected Corey Yuen filmography…
1993 — Fong Sai Yuk
A slightly longer version of Yuen’s filmography exists, but for now, Fong Sai Yuk is all you need to know. The greatest kung-fu pic of the nineties, Jet Li’s finest two hours and Mark’s second favourite film ever — if you haven’t seen Fong Sai Yuk you are truly missing out. I’m happy to lend out my copy — provided, of course, you can arrange for Zhao Wei to beat me repeatedly with her rollerblades.
Ah, Zhao Wei. Sigh. She might not light up the dark, cobwebbed corners of my unworthy teenage soul like Zhang Ziyi does, but she comes sooooo close (sorry). Watching her lay the spank down on Chairman Chow’s henchmen… or Shu Qi doing the same… aiyah! That said, So Close does actually amount to a something more than a series of high kicks in miniskirts, but not so much more that it takes the fun out of it. There’s a nice line in gender role reversal here; it took me quite some time to get over the fact that Shu Qi does her work with the sort of style and panache I’d normally expect from Chow Yun Fat (his words, not mine). Service with a smile is generally pretty rare from female assassins — just ask Jade Leung — but the sisters do it perfectly, with the angst waiting until the third act before kicking in. The emotional shifts in So Close are more or less perfect (which, if you’ve seen Fong Sai Yuk, should be no surprise) although the drama turns out a little more heavy-handed. There are some curious story choices late in the film that make the preceding seventy-five-odd minutes feel almost redundant — more like one giant set-up — but if you’ve come expecting serious plotting…well, this is an action movie after all.
So Close ultimately succeeds as a very visual piece of work — alternately quite slick and very brutal, but always cool, every frame is drenched with cinematic style. From Shu Qi’s entrance to Zhao Wei’s exit, Yuen never lets up; forget Charlie’s Angels, slow motion hair has never looked this good!
Needless to say, the fight scenes are magnificently shot, with the martial arts choreography a particular standout. The opening hit is worth the price of admission alone, and while the some of the larger set pieces aren’t quite as tight as they could be, there’s an especially brilliant battle involving bamboo and katana that more than makes up for, well, pretty much any problems you might have at all. Brilliant.
You can more or less take what you want from this film… provided you’re willing to accept plenty of action and lip-gloss with it. It’s not perfect — thematically it’s a little unsatisfying, and Karen Mok’s cigars are damn creepy — but it’s a lot of fun. It’s also nice to see Corey Yuen doing something other than choreography duties on Jet Li’s fairly lacklustre American work, so So Close is definitely one to savour.