If movies have taught us anything it’s that not enough filmmakers title their work as an homage to the venerable and beloved Police Academy film series. But they’ve also taught us that it’s never a good thing when military types and scientists collaborate. Yes, even Asian ones. City Under Siege opens in an underground bunker during WWII as a group of frightened men are led into an observation room. Also in the room? A mutated and muscle-laden man who proceeds to kill each and every one of them. Cut to the present day and we’re introduced to Sunny (Aaron Kwok), a clown at the local circus who imagines himself as a legendary knife thrower. But Zhang (Collin Chou) and his cronies are the circus’ real stars, and they treat Sunny like a second-class citizen. Which is still better than clowns deserve to be treated.
The group goes treasure hunting in the hills and accidentally get spritzed by a chemical which begins to mutate them all in painful ways but which also gives them superhuman powers. Imbued with abilities to match their attitudes they leave Sunny for dead and head into the city to wreak havoc, rob armored trucks, and cause mayhem wherever possible. Sunny’s alive of course, and as the only mutant with a sense of right and wrong he heads into town to square off against his former c0-workers. Toss in an engaged couple brought in to investigate supernatural crimes (the extremely talented Wu Jing and Zhang Jingchu), a news reporter (Shu Qi) who becomes the object of affection for both Sunny and Zhang, and a singing Kwok, and you have one goofy as hell but sadly mediocre action flick.
At first glance it would be easy to confuse this comical action romp with Andy Lau’s ridiculously bad Future X-Cops. Both feature big name leads, a lone hero who uses powers to defeat a team of similarly altered bad guys, and a shit-ton of wire work. But whereas Lau’s film is a loud, boring mess, City Under Siege actually manages small pockets of entertainment. Pockets that usually involve ass kicking.
Benny Chan takes a break from his serious (and far superior) action fare like Invisible Target and New Police Story to direct this tonally imbalanced fluff, and it’s his first misfire in a decade. I’m looking at you Gen-Y Cops. Most of the movie plays like a slapsticky comedy punctuated with explosions, CGI, and glass breaking. The script is a mix of the stupid and the inane as Sunny gets turned into a media superstar who begins schilling for razors and diarrhea medicine until the bad guys attack and he has a training montage set to the smooth, dulcet sounds of Kwok’s singing. And you’re missing out my friends if you’ve never heard a Kwok sing.
Kwok takes a step back from the more challenging and dramatic roles he’s tackled recently and reverts to his silly, pop star ways where he tries to rely almost exclusively on his youthful looks, crooked smile, and sheer will power. Anything but acting skill or intensity. Qi looks great as ex-reporter/current talent manager Angel Chan, but she has very little to do here aside from that. Chou overacts every frame, but he at least gets to balance that with some solid fight scenes. Jing and Jingchu are the two consistent bright spots here. Their subplot, a bantering couple in love, is fairly pointless, but it’s still more interesting than the main story. The duo also kicks a serious amount of ass.
You may recall Chou and Jing as being halves of two of the greatest Donnie Yen fight scenes ever (lovingly compiled at Cinematical here). Chou brawls with Yen in the excellent Flash Point, and Wu has that awesome alleyway knife fight with him in the equally thrilling SPL. Chou and Jing face each other here, and while their fights aren’t as epic as the ones with Yen they’re still fun to watch.
Sadly, the fight scenes aren’t numerous enough to warrant seeking this movie out… but if you come across it laying on the ground, then fine, give it a whirl. Too much of the action is of the bombastic and wire-fu variety. The goofy tone becomes especially grating in the final thirty minutes when it suddenly shifts to Asian melodrama and the only likable characters begin dying. Hopefully this is no more than a blip on Chan’s directorial output and he returns to making real action movies soon.
The Upside: Kwok and Qi have always been appealing actors, I guess; Jing and Jingchu make a good couple and share some exciting fight scenes, as do Jing and Chou
The Downside: Excessive wire work mars some of the action; slapsticky; powers seem to fluctuate depending on what the next action scene requires; kills off the only appealing character; tonal issues; Kwok pop song over the training montage… and again over the finale
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