Heralded as something of a return to heyday of Hong Kong action movies, Invisible Target isn’t quite that, but it sure ain’t half bad.
Obviously working with Jackie Chan on New Police Story must have rubbed off on director Benny Chan. (And not just in the respect of casting Jackie’s son Jaycee.) While recreating the death-defying stunt work of the original Police Story series – and no doubt inspired by the kinetic energy shown by Tony Jaa in his own ‘real’ stunts during Ong-Bak – something definitely stuck.
Though New Police Story didn’t live up to its potential – the stunts were pretty wild but rarely had anything to do with the story – Invisible Target finally delivers the action film we’ve all been waiting for from Benny Chan.
The story centres around three cops who have more in common that they would like to admit: the maverick Inspector Carson Fong Yik Wei (Shawn Yue, Infernal Affairs 2, Dragon Tiger Gate, Initial D) who’ll happily break all the rules to get his man; Detective Chan Chun (Nicholas Tse, New Police Story, The Promise, Dragon Tiger Gate), the cop-with-a-deathwish ever since his fiancé was killed during a robbery of an armoured truck (no, like that is different to the maverick, yeah?!); and lastly the do-gooder Officer Wai King Ho (Jaycee Chan, 2 Young, The Sun Also Rises), the naïve young cop who always wants to do the right thing.
(Well, no one ever said anything about originality!)
What they have in common is the gang who pulled the heist on the truck, who are back in Hong Kong six months later after being ripped off of their share by the mastermind behind it all. Carson has a run in with the gang while on a routine spot check, leaving his many of his colleagues critically injured. And Ho’s brother, also a cop (and played by Aaron Kwok in a bizarre, photograph-only ‘cameo’) is accused of helping them. But was he actually undercover, and did someone betray him?
Both our heroic trio and the last surviving gang members, led by Tien Yeng Seng (Wu Jing aka Jacky Wu, S.P.L., Tai Chi II), have the same target, the architect of the original heist who seems to know a little too much to be on the wrong side of the law. The trio start to look within their own ranks, but who will find him first?
While Invisible Target might not be quite worthy of the ‘Hard Boiled for the Noughties’ title it’s been given in some parts, the comparison with John Woo’s film is pretty fair. Like Woo, director Chan sticks pretty close to the original narrative of the martial art novels that became swordplay movies from the 60s on (particularly those of directors like Zhang Che and Chor Yuan), simply transplanting them to modern day. You might as well call the film Magnificent Trio ’07. (Well, maybe not, but you get the point…)
Chan’s flaw previously was to let the sentimentality completely derail the action, a failing in both New Police Story and Divergence. This time around, though still as soppy as you’d expect from a mainstream HK movie, it’s actually does propel the action. You actually get the impression that, unlike his previous work (and that of many of his peers in Hong Kong), Benny Chan really isn’t taking this too seriously.
What Chan brings is his demand that the actors do their own stunts – yes, just like the old days of Hong Kong movies. (In fact, I’m not sure they ever stopped!) Action was always Chan’s strong point, just look at the thrilling chase scene in Divergence over roads that culminates in the Central Market, but the difference here is the sort of action we get to watch our stars in. Not just in tightly choreographed hand-to-hand combat, but jumping off bus shelter roofs only to get hit by passing buses, get pushed off buildings, through glass windows (and doors) and down flights of stairs. Though you never feel the danger of those early days – the Jackie Chan style outtakes over the credits may show the cast doing the stunts themselves, but in the safety conscious filming of today there seems little danger of them coming to too much harm – it adds a frisson to the film that most American action movies not only lack, but never come close to. Simply put, it feels a hell of a lot more real than we’re used to.
Of course, with real stunts comes the true HK old school ‘double take’, where we see the stunt over and over again from several different angles. (No, maybe I’m wrong, maybe we still are in the 80s?) The films only fault is its over reliance on CGI, the effects look okay but a jarringly out-of-place with the very real stunts. You get the impression with Chan that when he runs out of ideas he resorts to blowing things up!
Cunningly pilfering much of the cast from Wilson Yip’s last successes, the cast out do themselves with fight scenes nearly as good as those in Yip’s Flash Point (originally released just a few weeks after this) and there are more of them! It’s better paced too, though the film is still about 20 minutes too long – mainly showing on a surprisingly flabby conclusion, where the initial velocity is too often lost with perpetual showdowns between the good and bad guys. It sure looks good for its $8 million cost, barely a fraction of a comparable US movie right now.
(Which might explain why the Weinstein’s have bought international rights. Let’s hope that doesn’t mean the same as it did for S.P.L. for the UK audience – that is no release and bloody difficult to get anything else?!)
Though hardly deep portrayals, Chan manages to inject just enough into the characters to make them three-dimensional. Shawn Yue in particular shines, believable as the tough cop who’s even cold to his girlfriend he really seems to be turning into a credible leading man, as is Nicholas Tse, finally shedding those teenage years to take on more adult roles. It’s hard not to shake the image of Jackie Chan watching his son play a more similar role to him, his innocent morality really echoing his dad in Project A and Police Story, but it’s a fair performance nonetheless.
The real star, however, is Wu Jing, who makes his character a lot more sympathetic than he should be. Since Tai Chi II Wu’s careers has been pretty slow, but perhaps now his time has finally come?
Ultimately this is a movie that thankfully knows just what it is, a fun action film, and that makes it very enjoyable indeed.
Distributor: Universe (HK)
It’s hard not to be blown away by the Limited Edition 3-disc version of the set. The movie disc alone has more extras than most 2-disc releases nowadays, with an audio commentary by director and cast, trailer, cast info, stills and a fantastic transfer of the film itself with Dolby and DTS sound.
The second disc includes deleted scenes and several featurettes, including a making-of, action special, a comparison between the final film and storyborards and more besides. Best news yet is that it ALL has English subtitles, even the commentary!
There’s also a soundtrack CD, but you might not want to boast about that too much. And all for just over a tenner (£10 to international viewers). Mine even came with a gift strap for a mobile, too! (The packaging is a bit bizarre though, cardboard sleeve with polyboard glued on front and back. All to make a standard DVD sleeve look thicker?)
Now why can’t the rest of the world do DVD releases like this any more?
Distributor: Cine Asia / Dragon Dynasty (UK)
Finally out in the UK, this is a pretty solid release on DVD and Blu-Ray. Basically this is the US Dragon Dynasty version, which itself transfers most of the content from the outstanding Hong Kong 2-disc and 3-disc releases. The big difference is the original commentary is supplanted with a new one with DD fave Bey Logan and stars Jaycee Chan, Shawn Yue and Andy On.
And the Blu-Ray is even out a few days before the States gets it!