Foreign Objects travels the world of international cinema each week to look for films worth visiting. So renew your passport, get your shots, and brush up on the local age of legal consent, this week we’re heading to…
The best action cinema used to live almost exclusively in Hong Kong, but somewhere along the line (the 90’s) the movies lost just about everything that made them kick ass. The action scenes lost their awe-inducing choreography and ingenuity, the plots became re-hashes of every other film, and stars lacked the charisma required to make us care. But the last few years have finally seen a return to form, and while a lot credit goes to Donnie Yen he’s not the only one working to make Hong Kong the epicenter of action once again.
An armored truck robbery leaves several dead while the criminals escape with both their lives and their prize. Six months later the robbers have returned for another score, but this time three cops have targeted them for revenge. One lost his fiancé in the explosion, another saw his police trainees injured, and a third suspects a connection between the bad guys and his missing brother. Add to that mix a possible a traitor in their midst and everyone’s day goes from bad to worse. Cue an insane assortment of glass-shattering action, fights, falls, jumps, gunshots, kicks, punches, and chases.
Benny Chan’s Invisible Target is almost two movies in one. Part of that is due to the movie’s 130 minute running time, but it also walks a fine line between exhilarating action flick and intense drama. The action includes some beautifully choreographed fights and parkour-like chases and represents another step in the resurgence of Hong Kong cinema towards its former glory days. And the drama has more depth and detail than you’d expect to find in an action movie regardless of geographic origin. Unfortunately it may actually have a bit too much.
The main actors here all excel at the action, but they also get a chance to showcase their angsty faces and emotional suffering. Jaycee Chan does his father proud in both areas with some impressive dramatic work within his character’s storyline, but he also garners many of the films laughs including a running gag with his grandmother thinking he’s gay. Nicholas Tse and Shawn Yue are the two more experienced cops, and Tse in particular brings a dark and powerful intensity to his role as the one who lost his girlfriend.
As is often the case with Hong Kong action pics the good guys and bad guys aren’t always easy to distinguish. Everyone has a dark past and reasons for their behavior alongside testosterone-fueled codes of conduct and respect. These manly dramas get a bit tiring though as the aforementioned two-hour plus run-time starts feeling padded with drama after a while. The movie could have benefited from a 15-20 minute trim to keep the pacing stronger. That said, even at this length the plot seems a bit convoluted at times so cutting would have necessitated the removal of one or two story-lines.
But this is an action movie first, and in that regard the movie kicks all kinds of ass. Starting with some absolutely brilliant footwork during the handful of chases, Benny Chan proves once again that he knows how to shoot exciting scenes. Some folks complain about parkour but I’m a fan when it’s done well and by characters who I believe would actually be capable of it. Some of the stunts obviously benefit from wire work, but they’re beautifully done and there are still more than enough legitimate action scenes to give that “cheat” a pass. The opening foot chase/rooftop parkour is thrilling stuff and actually outshines the District 13 movies.
As great as the chases are the real draw here is the fights, and good god does this movie deliver. There are some great one on one battles as well as some free-for-alls. Little known fact, every thug in Hong Kong carries the same metal rod in case a fight breaks out. Do they all shop at the same concealed weapon store? And this movie sets some kind of record for most panes of glass shattered. The end battle takes place in an office building and while the action is balletic in its beauty, you can’t help but chuckle every time the camera moves to reveal a glass wall seconds before someone goes flying through it. Another set-piece involves a very cool fight on a floor lit ablaze, and it’s not done with CGI… something the painful-to-watch end credits confirm.
Benny Chan’s Invisible Target runs a little too long to keep the adrenaline flowing nonstop, but even so it will still remind you why you fell in love with Hong Kong cinema in the first place. The action will have you thinking (and maybe even saying) “wow” more than once as the fists and feet fly at a furious pace. The extended dramatic scenes are worth enduring for the bone-crunching, lightning quick action that’s waiting for you on the other side. Seek it out and rediscover kick-ass action scenes that Hollywood has never been able to duplicate.
Invisible Target was recently released on DVD and Blu-ray from CineAsia/Dragon Dynasty and comes loaded with extras features. There’s a commentary with the three leads joined by Bey Logan that mixes Hong Kong cinema history with recollection on the film itself. Deleted scenes, interviews, trailers, storyboards, and more round out the release.
The Upside: Absolutely brilliant fight choreography and execution; epic and exciting parkour scenes; stunt-work overall is constantly impressive and wince-inducing; always good to see Jacky Wu unleashed
The Downside: The plot gets a little too dense at times; some of the action benefits too obviously from wire-work and CGI enhancement; runs a little too long