Invisible Target (limited edition) Review
Getting something right often involves doing it again. For instance, Ozu remade both A Story of Floating Weeds and I Was Born But, Hitchcock remade The Man Who Knew Too Much, and John Carpenter shoehorns the concept of Rio Bravo into nearly every movie he's ever made. Repetition of ideas and images can often prove creative and lend the resonance of the past to current projects, and it can also be the sign of a perfectionist as the artist tries again to capture exactly what they wanted the first time. Alternatively, repetition can be a sign of a lack of creativity, a shameless need to retread old ground, and the sign of a busted artistic flush.
I mention this because five minutes into Invisible Target the action we have witnessed is eerily similar to Benny Chan's previous film, New Police Story. The opening scene involves a gang of cool robbers carrying out a vicious and daring assault on a security van and the scene that follows it involves a dogged cop chasing down a villain on a double decker bus, complete with stunts on top of the bus just like his previous film. At that point I remembered Benny Chan saying that New Police Story had been written from an existing script of his which he remodelled when he got Jackie Chan on board, and I wondered if Invisible Target was that script.
The development of rogue cops who chase down this gang of robbers resembles Jackie Chan's character arc in New Police Story, they recover from family ignominy, professional humiliation and a personal vendetta when JC simply overcame the bottle but my strange sense of deja vu ended when I was soon convinced that Chan was no longer repeating himself, rather that he was repeating other people. The scenes of the kidnapped school bus(Dirty Harry), the shots of gorgeous stylish men on tall buildings(Infernal Affairs), the villains who are a reaction to their poverty(Love Battlefield), and the unlikely brothers in arms who unite to fight for honour(just about every John Woo or Chang Cheh film ever), these scenes are clearly original and the work of Chan's fecund mind!
I suppose it becomes more and more inevitable that film-makers use what they themselves have seen as their reference point as cinema enters its second century. In this summer of endless sequels and remakes, well trodden paths of entertainment can always be spruced up and re-paved and most of the audience will probably not be old enough to realise the borrowing and homage, preferring instead the experience which is the replicated thrill of well worn stereotypes and unsurprising drama. Like the plethora of TV about makeovers, spiritual, physical and even intestinal, the trick in popular cinema has become re-making the old so it looks cool again. On this score, Benny Chan delivers an action film which lacks originality, but, by God, it delivers in terms of beautiful hair and modernity.
Invisible Target makes up for a lack of character with oodles of glossy style and souped up violence. Where his previous New Police Story gave us villains who were poor little rich kids, this one gives us orphans with sunglasses and a fine range in haircare. Where the comedy and dialogue of New Police Story stank, here it almost works with a particular funny homo-erotic gag involving the three hunky male leads. Where New Police Story had a gorgeous pouting Nicholas Tse, glossy shots of skyscrapers and lots of wire work and CGI explosions, this film gives us a gorgeous pouting Nicholas Tse, glossy shots of skyscrapers and lots of wire work and CGI explosions.
Basically, Invisible Target shows that Benny Chan can make the same film much better than the first time, and, perhaps, this means that by the time of his next project he may complete a film half as good as the spirits of the ones he clearly channelled here. He may do this one day if he keeps trying and getting better at it, he may confound me with something better than soulless pulp without an idea in its head. Until that day, Invisible Target gives the uninspired and untalented directors of the world hope that they can become the Baron Frankenstein of their profession and that if they keep trying, they may, one day, make an ok film by using the cadavers of other people's movies.
Given the excessive recycling of the film, it's good to see that Universe Laser reject Chan's ecological ways and are trying to reach new levels of extraneous packaging and extras that you will never need. The limited edition of Invisible Target comes with two DVDs and a soundtrack CD, and these are contained reasonably enough in an ordinary DVD box which is then contained within a dust-sleeve enclosure which carries foam slabs on either face of the dust-sleeve for no particular reason. This means that should you want to throw the package at a wall then it will at least be protected from great harm. The transfer of the main feature is excellent - it's razor sharp, has fantastic contrast and great colour balance and fine detail throughout. The choice of audio tracks include original Cantonese or Mandarin, and the two Cantonese tracks come in 5.1 and DTS. The Dolby surround track has slightly more power to it with an excellent sub-woofer channel for the explosions and good spatial definition through out the mix. Dialogue is nearly always spoken from the front of the mix but music and effects are distributed throughout the speakers appropriately. The surround tracks are good, clean and functional and will allow action fans to get lost in chases and fights. The English subtitles have rare slip ups in grammar but are the near equal of UK and US releases in this department.
The first DVD contains the main feature and this comes with a commentary from the director and cast which is translated via some good English subs. It is very reverential of the director's work and everyone contributes as if they are discussing Citizen Kane or Fellini, and unless you think the main feature rivals the work of Orson Welles you may find it rather dull and misguided. The second disc has the remaining video extras beginning with a 24 minute making of documentary. This documentary is basic on-set footage with interviews cut with scenes from the film, but this has been compiled in a deliberately stylised and scratchy form so as to seem cutting edge and interesting. It doesn't come over as either of these things and it is damned hard work to follow with awful subs and nonsense about how meaningful the title is and how the film is a lesson in integrity - it is much more a lesson in product placement, if you ask me.
The Gala Premiere footage is 10 minutes of the cast and crew looking glamourous and plugging the film to the press whilst telling each other they're great - it's a bit like group onanism to be honest. Benny Chan narrates 14 minutes of deleted and extended scenes with longer introductions of the three main character and flashbacks to the aftermath of the initial robbery. Worst of all in this extras bonanza is a featurette which looks at the director's trilogy of films - Heroic Duo, Divergence and this film. This is a short piece but contains enough nonsense about Chan's supposed auteur status and the instructive nature of his cinema to cause a worldwide baloney shortage.
Not satisfied with featurettes claiming this film as a work of art and it's director as the second coming, we next get a hyperbolic featurette on the "amazing" action setpieces of the film. Now breaking lots of glass and extensive wirework is hardly new as Jackie Chan was doing all these stunts twenty years ago without wires, but this doesn't stop the verbal diarrhoea from flowing. Finally, thank God, the DVD extras finish with selected storyboard comparisons with Benny Chan describing his genius over line drawings which bear little resemblance to the on-screen action.
Then there is the soundtrack CD which is syrupy generic bobbins which would love to be somewhere between Howard Shore and Joe Hisaishi but isn't. I have to say that it contains tracks of such pomposity that Rentaghost would have turned them down for being overly camp.
Invisible Target is the perfect movie for someone who has never seen an Asian action film before and has a fascination for people with too much time to do their hair. It is empty headed and soulless. This presentation has everything the self deluded may want in terms of being told this is the greatest film ever by the greatest director ever with the greatest action and the greatest music. It is more evidence that film-makers think you are stupid enough to swallow the marketing and ignore the quality of the product.