Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Random Movie Review: Fatal Contact

Fatal Contact (2006)
aka: Hak kuen (Cantonese title)
Written & Directed by Dennis Law
Starring Wu Jing (aka Jacky Wu), Ronald Cheng, and Miki Yeung.

I find it interesting that what seems to be most noteworthy about this movie to me is what it's missing. Which is to say: if it had had a slightly tighter script, it could easily have been an classic. Or if it had been somewhat better directed, it could easily have been an amazing film. You can understand why I find it a bit ironic to discover that it was written & directed by the same person. On a similar note, I found the consistency and solidity of a few characters to be one of the most appealing parts of the film; but what one of the things the movie is missing most is solid character development.

The premise: Wu Jing is a member of the Chinese National Wushu team who gets talked by his girlfriend into becoming an underground fighter. As one could expect, lots of great fight scenes ensue. People have been saying for years that Wu Jing is the next Jet Li, and I've been inclined to agree ever since I first saw him in 2005's SPL (released in the US as Kill Zone). All he really needs is a breakthrough film--a solid enough lead in a good enough movie--to catapult himself to stardom. And this movie comes perilously close, which is why I feel a bit let down that it doesn't quite make it.

Ultimately, there's a lot of interesting themes swirling around in this movie; conflicts and foils abound regarding loyalty, fealty, and trust on the one side with greed and suspicion on the other. The nice thing is that we get clear characters who embody these traits in their own fashion; the annoying thing is that it's incredibly clear who represents each to the extent that we're never really surprised by any character's actions, because we knew going in that that's exactly the sort of thing they'd do. It also has the common HK problem of giving us characters who would rather tell us how they feel on certain topics rather than show it through their actions.

But it doesn't quite succeed as an action movie either. It's not to say that the action isn't excellent, because it really is. It's just that the escalation from match to match eventually reaches the point where each fight feels arbitrary: each time, you're just sort of asking yourself, "Are we done yet? Or are they going to find yet another way to show us they're taking it to the next level?" And those are questions that a movie really doesn't want you to start asking yourself.

The most frustrating part about the movie is it's inability to decide whether it's an action comedy or a dramatic tragedy. And as much as I respect what it was trying to do with the latter, it was really the former that's more enjoyable. And just as you think that's where it's going, they pull out a (really rather well) telegraphed plot twist that turns into a depressingly nihilistic ending. The final scenes are really well done and could easily show up in a great movie; it just shows up at the point where I've decided that this movie isn't the one I want to see end that way.

But I'm probably coming down too hard on this movie: it's quite good, and it's immensely entertaining. If you're a fan of MMA & kung fu flicks, then you'll definitely derive enough enjoyment from it. And it's definitely a good movie in it's own right--easily 3.5 or 4 stars out of 5--it's just in that category of films that are good enough to make you wish they were even better.

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