Hong Kong Digital
is a recurring series of movie reviews by John Charles -- associate
editor / film reviewer for Video Watchdog magazine and the author
of The Hong Kong Filmography.
It seems like the more HK producers try to tailor their films towards Western markets, the more sheepish and self-conscious they become. Gone are the wonderful stylistic flourishes and cultural components that make HK cinema so special, replaced by generic (and sometimes laughably off base) approximations of Hollywood formula fare. EXTREME CHALLENGE was shot predominantly in English but without sync sound, Golden Harvest evidently feeling that the mostly Caucasian cast was not professional enough to do their own lines. Whatever the case, they shot themselves in the foot by settling for a dubbing job so inept, the picture was likely laughed off the screen when shown to potential overseas buyers. A lot of would-be high tech trappings fail to disguise the fact that this is yet another routine entry in the "fighting tournament" sub-genre made famous by ENTER THE DRAGON and, then, copied to death by American B-producers, resulting in such disposable franchises as BLOODSPORT and BLOODFIST. Fortunately, the fighting here is of a decidedly higher calibre, thanks to veteran choreographer / director Stephen Tung Wai (who also appears as a Japanese contestant), and is really the only reason to make the picture worth considering.
Yeung Chuen-ai. Image courtesy Universe.
Powerful internet corporation Champ International is sponsoring a fighting competition with a purse of $5 million going to the winner. Among the entrants are martial artists Jin Fang (SHARP GUNS' Ken Chang Chi-yao) and Kuang Kin (Yeung Chuen-ai), who studied together but are now estranged, and female competitor Tang Ning (Patricia Ja Lee), a young ABC. Kin quickly develops feelings for Ning and even helps her survive one of the elimination free-for-alls, an approach to competition that conflicts sharply with Fang's all-or-nothing doctrine. As the field narrows, cold and calculating tournament director Karen Li (Jacqueline Lee Wing-han, whose performance is completely destroyed by the revoicing) manipulates events behind-the-scenes to ensure Champ's best interests.
Like its Western counterparts, EXTREME CHALLENGE offers little to hold one's attention between the matches. The conflict between elder and junior students is a genre staple, of course, and the usual roles are reversed here: it is Kin who is in touch with himself and values more in life than simply being the best of the best. Unfortunately, the script does nothing interesting with this clash of values (boiling it down to the rather dull analogy "You can be a hammer or a nail") and the cast of newcomers make little impression. That leaves the fights and there are a good variety of styles and weapons on display, with the staff and nunchaku bouts emerging as the most exciting. While the combat would be good enough to make an American direct-to-video feature watchable, one cannot help but expect better from both Golden Harvest and a director of Tung's experience and talent.