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The Benny Chan Cops & Robbers Rundown Part 5: Gen-Y Cops

Say what you will about the actual content, but this was an auspicious success for HK and even the world. Ask Paul Rudd!…

In honour of the forthcoming release of the late Benny Chan‘s Raging Fire, we look back on his career and the genre for which he was best known.

Chan often filmed on the spur of the moment, or decided to change or make new ideas mid-shoot. He would also conceive or change the main concepts and characters for some films on a whim, or from conversations with actors or others in the industry. (Chan’s mentor, Johnnie To is known for a variation of that method where he’d simply stop production of films altogether for extended periods while he brainstormed.) That unusual degree of spontaneity would often rather clearly show in Chan’s movies, and far more often than not it turned out to work out quite well. But once in a while, well, it didn’t….

 

Gen-Y Cops AKA Metal Mayhem

The US military has just completed their masterpiece in modern warfare: the high-tech combat robot RS-1. But just as the US government usually does with top-secret cutting-edge new weaponry, before using it in the military they want to publicly show off its design and capabilities in the country of a major rival military power with limited security. Thus it’s to be sent to Hong Kong’s International Military Technology Convention. But the robot’s disgruntled, crazed designer Kurt (Richard Sun) — after being fired from the project — wants his “baby” back at any cost. So he hacks into it with assistance from a secret law enforcement connection in order to….well, have it shoot stuff and blow stuff up because it’s his hobby. And since Kurt shared that hobby with this movie’s director, things don’t look too good for the city.

Once the robot makes short work of this block of tofu, it’s clear that the fate of 7 million Hong Kongers hangs in the balance.

As for the Gen-X Cops Match & Alien (or I guess they’re the Gen-Y cops now – but how did they change the generation they were born in?), they’ve been sent to search for a missing undercover cop, Edison (Edison Chen, more or less replacing Nicholas Tse’s Jack this time). Also thrown into the mix are three FBI agents: Curtis (Paul Rudd — yes, you heard me); Tucker (Mark Hicks — a major Hollywood stuntman/coordinator including as Chris Tucker’s double in the Rush Hour series in one of his only major roles); and Quigley (Maggie Q — actually using her real name here). They came to HK to protect American interests (primarily the robot). So this time, the mandatory obstructive superiors/rival units for the police heroes among Chan movies come in the form of the FBI, who upon introduction show little confidence in the HK police as equals.

Tensions get that much worse when Edison is framed by Kurt for the killing of an FBI agent (actually, does it really count as being framed if you’re digitally mind-controlled into killing a person? Because you did still kill him. Legal questions for the future). The FBI blame Match & Alien for Edison’s actions, with Curtis in particular aggressively threatening arrest/to shoot them if they can’t reel Edison in. But Quigley urges giving them the benefit of a doubt (while keeping her gun on the ready just in case) while Hicks urges all parties to concentrate on the main task at hand in recovering RS-1. So Edison’s after Kurt, the Gen-Y Cops are after Edison, the FBI is after the Gen-Y Cops and to complete the circle, Kurt is after the FBI for full control of RS-1.

Everyone makes mistakes, right? And in concrete terms, Gen-Y Cops is a genuine disaster. This is not even a case of a project that was a doomed from the bottom up: As an action-sci-fi-thriller-crime-comedy with a commendably diverse cast for the time (among foreigners and even Chinese for featuring HK, Mainland and overseas Chinese) and an industry-pushing reliance on different kinds of SFX, it really was a laudably adventurous undertaking.

Paul Rudd, Mark Hicks and Maggie Q; the latter showing through various “uniforms” that the best way to keep your cover as an FBI agent is by not keeping much covered.

But while Gen-X Cops carefully and successfully skated right across the threshold of getting too silly, Y stumbles, breaks its wheels, falls hard to the ground and busts its head open with silliness. And almost every major part of the movie contributes to that injury: the goofy script (RS-1’s main investor’s immediate reaction to it killing several scientists and almost him is, “How are we going to take that thing to Hong Kong? The Weapon Exhibition is just one week away!”); the main concept that frankly bites off a little more than it’s ready to chew; the general presentation; and the questionable performances (even when from talented actors). In a movie where almost everybody either overacts or underacts (except Q, Rudd, Chen and more or less Hicks), Lee’s Alien and Sun’s Kurt are the worst offenders of all.

Chan was known to encourage and set up the atmosphere for his actors to let go, but this time he and his cast squarely overdid it. Even Anthony Wong — who was amusing in What a Hero! and awesome in Big Bulletis closer to just annoying in his minor role here. Chan also put foreigners from most corners of the world in his movies far more often and consistently than most, and yet more remarkably for the industry in the older days, almost never stereotyped them (except for one in this movie, though not too badly). In fact, the foreigners here play the biggest role in lifting the movie overall.

Q ends up being the best thing about Y, both because her character is one of the only that’s made to be normal and no-nonsense (except maybe for her curious wardrobe; but fans won’t mind), and she speaks through action more than words. And seeing how there’s so much silly dialogue and both intentional [hammed] and unintentional dubious acting, the less talk, the better. Additionally, even as the only one in the main cast with no established background in acting and/or martial arts/stunts, Q clearly went the extra mile to make her first shot at the big time count by doing all of the above here. So it’s a fitting start for a remarkably wide-ranging career stretching mostly Hollywood, Hong Kong and Mainland blockbusters and indies alike, plus several TV series including Nikita where she got her widest exposure. (And even as an action heroine in her 40s now, her next film, Martin Campbell’s The Protégé, is already set to be her biggest lead role yet).

While Q stands out as the MVP, close behind and in retrospect the most notable for general audiences would have to be none other than Mr. Paul Rudd in his unlikely first big hit role (at HK’s box office, at least). He also puts in more effort than needed — perhaps most notably in coherently speaking a little Cantonese which many before and after him failed in. It would take a full decade and a half later to become a Hollywood superstar best known for his own much bigger but still rather cheesy sci-fi [superhero] movies with Marvel, the Ant-Man series. (For an extra odd link-chain between the two industries, Ant-Man’s director cited a source of inspiration for Rudd’s costume to be Hong Kong’s 1975 classic one-off tokusatsu hero, The Super Inframan.)

So in the end, it’s not that Gen-Y Cops is plainly terrible all around or unwatchable. The basic plot is interesting and twisty (if not logical or well-executed) enough to be worth tepidly following at least, and it never really slows down, managing to build some decent momentum in the late-middle stretch before things go totally off the rails again (and the real reason to see it is in the side notes detailed below). But if Gen-X Cops was genuinely good kitsch, Gen-Y would definitely have to file under bad kitsch.

“Rosanne Barr Arnold will be President of the United States before you two punks see the light of day.” [Imagine if Rudd had equally-randomly-for-the-time said “Donald John Trump….”]

Join us next week for the next in our The Benny Chan Cops & Robbers Rundown.

 

This time around, Chan blows up a posh Kowloon mall near Victoria Harbour, some of the streets around it and even some of the harbour itself.

HK Geonotes

You don’t need big robots to see the spectacle and lustrous lights where the climax takes place, as Victoria Harbour is arguably HK’s quintessential tourist (and local) attraction, able to be seen or crossed from either side via Kowloon or HK Island, or from way up high at “The Peak” (which others argue to be the best). But Paul Rudd offering to pay if he’s taken to “the best bar around” is probably not to be turned down, as so much as walking into some in the area or buying standard drinks in them can set one back in the hundreds of dollars.

 

Side notes

On a large, international scale, Gen-Y Cops turned out to be a shockingly providential movie. In addition to Rudd’s sort-of break, it gave the first lead and HK movie role for Edison Chen (after Miike’s Dead or Alive 2); a few years later, he’d also become HK’s first hip-hop megastar (with his extensive use of hip-hop vernacular here kind of prefiguring that) then umm, scandal megastar. It also provided the first movie that counts for Maggie Q (even if the super-cheapie Model From Hell was released slightly earlier), who was discovered by this series’ producer Jackie Chan during her desperate run through Asia to try to become a model. And it provided the first movie role of Arab-Argentine character actor Ricardo Mahmood-Vega, who’d primarily do supporting roles in TV, HK and Hollywood movies (So Close, Ultraviolet etc.) including that of the out-of-nowhere sheik villain here. (Believe it or not though, this isn’t the only time a sheik randomly showed up in HK to get mixed up with destructive robots — also see the even more silly-kitschy Robotrix.)

So in a way, Y could be thought of as a somewhat lesser, 21st-century equivalent to what the similarly subpar Behind the Yellow Line (foretelling Leslie Cheung, Anita Mui and Maggie Cheung’s superstardom) did for the 1980s, except with international stars.

The dub version of this movie that most Americans saw (and still see through any non-import/foreign venues) only makes it that much more cheesy all through; not surprisingly, since it premiered as a Sci-Fi Channel “Original” TV movie. The Jamaican herb dealer’s dub voice (no pun intended) provides one of the worst movie accents I can ever recall.

About the author

Wally AdamsWally Adams Wally Adams
Technically a product of the Carolinas; branching more widely in roots; a citizen of the world at heart. Asian cinema is but one of many avatars of my longtime fascination with cinema, general culture, music and languages all over. But by now I recognize it may be the strongest of them all and sum it up like this: Whether Mifune in a duel or Madhuri in a dance, Song Kang-ho being a dunce or Gordon Liu in his stance, the finest Asian cinema always leaves me in a trance. Find me on Facebook.
Read all posts by Wally Adams

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