Hong Kong Digital
is a recurring series of movie reviews by John Charles -- a film
reviewer for Video Watchdog magazine and the author of The Hong
China Strike Force
With the possible exception of GEN-Y COPS, no HK movie in recent memory has made more of an effort to court favor with Western distributors than Stanley Tong Kwai-lai's CHINA STRIKE FORCE. Yet, as of this writing, every American company that has viewed the film passed on it. Regardless, it ranks as one the better recent attempts by the HK film industry to match Hollywood at its own game.
Aaron Kwok (left) and Wang Leehom (right). Image courtesy Deltamac.
Mainland triad kingpin Ma Man-ho (Lau Siu-ming) dabbles in just about every illegal activity but draws the line at drugs, much to the annoyance of his nephew, Tony (Mark Dacascos), who is anxious to tap into the huge China market with American partner Coolio (played by the like-named rapper). While attending a Shanghai fashion show, Ma's brother-in-law is murdered and the crimelord's guest, the beautiful Norika (Japanese superstar Norika Fujiwara), removes a computer disk from the corpse. She is seen and pursued by local policeman Alex Cheung (Wang Leehom), while fellow cop Darren Tong (Aaron Kwok Fu-sing) takes off after the killer. Neither officer is successful at apprehending their quarry and, when the two cops participate in a smuggling bust soon afterwards, Tony is able elude them after an extended chase through traffic.
Norika Fujiwara and Mark Dacascos. Image courtesy Deltamac.
While Alex is off proposing to girlfriend Ruby (Ruby Lin Hsin-ru), Darren decides to return to the scene of the crime. Re-examining some old cars that his associates searched, he discovers a large quantity of drugs secured inside one of the vehicles. High ranking officer Lin (Paul Chun Pui, billed here as Paul Chiang) has a long history with Ma and knows that if narcotics are now being smuggled into the area, it is being done without the man's knowledge or approval. Norika approaches Tony and Coolio with an item of interest: the disk she took, which contains a list of everyone on Ma's payroll (a potential plot thread that is soon forgotten). She also proposes a partnership. Tired of his uncle's interference in his plans, Tony kills the old man but the police discover Norika beside the body and take her into custody. Her back against the wall, the woman reveals that she is with Japanese Interpol and seeks to arrest Coolio for the murder of her partner three years earlier. The three team up to put a stop to Tony and Coolio's master plan: smuggling drugs inside basketball-sized steel balls that flow through an oil pipeline, allowing the illicit cargo to travel from ship to shore unseen.
Wang Leehom and Ruby Lin. Image courtesy Deltamac.
CHINA STRIKE FORCE is perfectly watchable no-brainer entertainment and has some exciting moments (particularly a climactic battle featuring the participants balancing on a pane of glass hanging horizontally from the side of a highrise construction site). However, a good portion of the action is so outlandish, it induces snickers (like Kwok driving a motorcycle up the back and on top of a moving truck and performing a second motorcycle stunt in the final reel that has to be seen to be believed), with glaringly obvious wirework used during falls and a lot of moves that are more akin to circus acrobatics than martial arts. As is always the case with HK movies, the English lines alternate between banal and out-and-out silly ("I want to bring Coolio back to Tokyo myself"), though the Asian performers all speak the language well. Most of Coolio's dialogue is along the lines of "Man, I can get used to this shit" and the less said about his exaggerated South Central gangsta stereotype, the better.
Kwok, Fujiwara and Coolio way, way up in the air in a climatic fight scene. Image courtesy Deltamac.
As for Kwok, most of his fighting is noticeably undercranked and he is often aided by wirework, a boost that makes him seem an even more unworthy rival for Dacascos than he already is. Fujiwara is alluringly slinky and handles herself better than expected during the fights (the use of wire removal allows her and the other stars to be involved in some genuinely dangerous looking situations). The other actors are merely serviceable, aside from a quality turn by Chun, as an honest cop who crossed the line because of a promise he made to his dying wife years earlier. Ken Lo Wai-kwong co-stars as one of Dacascos' lackeys (the two have an impressive but brief kickboxing bout) and Jackson Liu Hsiu-hsien appears in the opening reel as Kwok and Wang's training officer. As with the Jackie Chan films Tong directed, outtakes run under the end credits, providing a glimpse of some rather painful looking injuries and showing Tong demonstrating a stunt for Kwok.
Fujiwara from the "Making Of..." program. Image courtesy Deltamac.