Flash Point Review
Donnie Yen, Louis Koo and Collin Chou star in this formulaic and therefore very predictable cop drama whereby Yen is the impulsive gets-things-done cop, Koo is the dedicated undercover cop and Chou is the ruthless middle brother of a Vietnamese gang the cops are targeting. There is a somewhat kinetic feel to the way the film is shot, with it moving along at a good pace though it does slow down occasionally as it tries to ask the obvious questions regarding how the police should fight gangsters. Restricted to following the law in order to catch those who laugh in the face of it and will do anything to anyone to keep themselves out of prison certainly poses a lot of questions though none are answered here. There are actually only two real fight sequences, but they’re beauties, with Yen citing MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) as his reference point and incorporating a variety of styles including numerous throws and holds into his trademark lighting fast kicks and punches while also showing a hint of Thai influence with the use of elbows. The two fights – the first between Yen and Xing Yu, the second between Yen and Chou - are particularly brutal as well, but superbly executed and well shot.
I find myself with little else to say about the central plot, with the majority of talking points all leading back to it being formulaic and predictable. At every turn you can see where the action is headed with the characters going through the broad strokes be it undercover life woes, struggling to do your job in the face of oppressive superiors or plain and simple wanton bloodletting from the gangsters. Their actions quickly define the characters and are heavily telegraphed so you’re never under any false pretences as to where the film is headed, none of which would really bother me so much if it weren’t for the equally broad strokes present in the dialogue and what should be more subtle aspects of character development. Everyone is a walking stereotype within the genre and though you have some decent talent on the screen they’re given very little opportunity to bring much to the roles, leaving various flaws in their characters and their actions to stand out. These range from the unlikely friendship between Yen and Koo’s characters or more obvious annoyances such as Koo’s unconvincing limp which comes and goes as the action dictates or even more petit observances such as a character putting tin foil in a microwave or a young rookie diving into an enclosed space where two men are struggling over a gun which is frequently discharging.
Despite making a point of setting the film prior to the 1997 handover to China it really doesn’t seem to have any relevance, though both the plotting and characterisation feel like late eighties to early nineties Hong Kong action throwbacks so in that sense I found it worked. Furthermore the question of how the cops should be fighting this type of crime basically goes unanswered and heads down the familiar route of revenge for actions unleashed upon them, something which again wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the film wasn’t book-ended by these faux documentary moments with Yen's character talking to the camera on the subject. None of this really detracts from the quality of the action set pieces I mentioned earlier though, and it must be said that the last third of the film has a very different energy to it. From the point where the Vietnamese gang return to seek out their captured brethren and set their sights on Koo in the hospital, a light seems to have switched on in director Wilson Yip’s head and the film starts moving along at a pace which almost seems to be dictated by the urban beats which are playing out in the background. Indeed, the music really comes into play at this point in the film and combined with some nice visual touches in camera movement, editing and a more evocative choice of location, the action featured in the last act becomes really quite compelling to watch. Heck, there is even a greater sense of purpose to the character motives, with the fight between Yen and Xing Yu quite a visceral experience due to Yen being at the end of his tether and literally breaking another person as a result. The last fight is certainly the more technically adept and more elaborate, but I think it’s the first which succeeds within the realm of combining action with character.
Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, the transfer here is distinctly average with a soft appearance and little in the way of fine detail. Darker scenes suffer the most, with a very flat appearance to most of the film early on compared to the brightly lit and eye-popping colours which feature in the final act. Elsewhere I noticed some minor colour bleed in the sequence where the brothers are celebrating their mother’s birthday, with the bright red background not doing so well with the foreground objects. On the whole it’s definitely somewhat mixed with merely acceptable detail levels though for the most part I think the less discerning viewer will be pleased and compression artefacts are kept to a minimum.
Audio options are the original Cantonese DD2.0 Stereo and DD5.1 Surround. Opting for the latter I was a little disappointed with the overall use of the soundstage, with very little going on for the most part and even during the action sequences where things open up I never really felt immersed. Instead it just feels like they chose to put a few appropriate sound effects on the rear speakers every now and then. Where the mix does impress is during the major explosion featured in the film which has a fair bit of oomph behind it and through the music score which is projected across the soundstage to good effect. In terms of quality there are no quibbles (despite it being encoded at a lower than usual 224kbps), while the forced (but not burned in) English subtitles are also nicely presented and seem to offer a decent translation and no spelling or grammatical errors.
Disc 1 extras are limited to trailers for other Cineasia releases including Apartment 1303, Dragon Tiger Gate, Ghost Game, Welcome to Dongmakgol and the forthcoming Chocolate.
Comparing the list of extras, disc two of this Cineasia release appears to port over most of the Hong Kong DVD release extras. Unsurprisingly then these fall in line with the majority of Hong Kong DVD extras that I’ve seen and are all very promotional in nature, with the first two features – a making of (18:12mins) and an “Ultimate Fighters” piece (2:32mins) – basically acting as extended trailers. The former is made up of interviews, clips and behind-the-scenes footage and spends a whole 3 minutes (including film clips) exploring the film and its characters before then spending a great deal of time on the action choreography and stunts before rounding things up by talking up the cast and crew. The latter is a very short action trailer which features Donnie Yen introducing his team of experts that work with him to choreograph scenes and train actors.
Deleted Scenes (x4) amount to very little, with the first two elaborating on the relationship between the villainous brothers and their beloved mother and the last two more or less unnecessary plot transitions which the audience can make without seeing, and so quite rightly they were excised. A series of Interviews (x8) with the primary cast and director Wilson Yip run for a combined total of over one hour and largely feature the same questions being posed to each person during the film’s promotional stage (the interviews are all from the same promotional event as those found in the making-of). With the exception of Yip whose interview poses different questions and the majority of which is featured in the making-of, each person is usually asked to describe their character, what it was like to work with Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen, their most memorable scene and finally they all make a case for Flash Point, trying to convince the public to watch the film in the cinema. These questions make for very repetitive and rehearsed answers so the majority of content here is pretty dull, though Donnie’s interview is both the longest and has a little more focus on the MMA fighting style so might be of some interest.
A Trailer Gallery features the theatrical trailer, a music promo (action scenes with music) and four great TV Spots which feature a very excitable announcer proclaiming Flash Point as a breakthrough in Chinese cinema. Last but not least is a very clearly marked Easter Egg option on the menu which I assumed was going to lazily take me to another random extra, but instead features a note from the DVD producer explaining just what an Easter Egg is and providing details on where to find them on recent Cineasia releases. It then informs the viewer there are two hidden eggs on the Flash Point disc, which with a little bit of hunting revealed the following additional features…
“Film Diary” (3:02mins, located on the Deleted Scenes menu page) is a montage of behind-the-scenes footage, most of which is used in the making-of and Ultimate Fighters piece, some of which is also seen playing over the end credits of the main film. Set to the heavy guitar riffs featured on the other extras on the disc, there is certainly a lot of repetition but most of the material is at least vaguely interesting and sometimes even exciting to watch (it’s mostly action scenes).
“Hong Kong Gala Premiere” (2:39mins, located on the Trailer Gallery menu page) gets my vote for funniest Easter Egg placement (poor old Collin Chou’s eyes turn an evil black) and is equally light in content, offering all the glitz and glamour of the Hong Kong premiere through quick cuts, sound bites and that heavy guitar riff in the background.
All of these extras are presented in 4:3 Full Screen with the film clips letterboxed at 2.35:1. English subtitles are forced and featured on everything, right down to the Ultimate Fighters piece which has Donnie speaking in English.
Utterly forgettable in terms of story but with a great last act for all my reservations the one thing I kept coming back to while watching Flash Point is how it feels like a Donnie Yen action vehicle from the golden years of Hong Kong action cinema. Now, I’ve never been the greatest fan of Yen’s films, particularly the contemporary action thrillers which I usually find to be formulaic and stale with a few decent action scenes, and that’s basically what Flash Point is. There’s a recommendation in that sentence somewhere, particularly for fans of his work and for everyone who found his action choreography in the past to be a little over the top and over cranked, I think you’ll like what he’s done here which is a progression from the already impressive action output featured in SPL.