A kung fu conscious cast for a police flick overflowing with excellent action and suspense…
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.
The defining characteristic of Chan’s career and talent was something deeper than just his main genre of choice: it was really to make what were essentially old-school HK action/crime films with modern sensibilities. While such movies never really stopped since they got rolling in the mid-80s, that distinct cocktail of gunfighting, kung fu and bold stunts mixed with comedy and melodrama – with the latter two toned down and the former two given more realism – was kept closer to its essence by Chan than others, and most of all in his 2007 effort.
Invisible Target (2007)
A gang of martial arts/gun expert robbers led by Tien (Wu Jing) pull off a brazen armoured truck robbery in broad daylight in front of a jewellery store in Central District. But since Tien has a nasty habit of leaving powerful mine-like bombs at every crime scene upon his exit, one ends up obliterating the jewellery store and all that was in it, including Ka-yee (Candy Liu), who was just shopping for an engagement ring over the phone with her love, CID detective Chan (Nicholas Tse).
Meanwhile, kind-hearted, soft-spoken rookie Wai (Jackie Chan’s son Jaycee) has his own big reason to start pursuing Tien’s gang: it’s been two years since his missing brother (Aaron Kwok’s picture, in a rather static performance) who he looked up to stopped being heard from upon joining Tien’s gang as an undercover. And to add insult to injury, the disappearance led to public shame and suspicion from other cops (including Chan) that Wai’s brother went all Chow Yun-fat on them as a mole who caught feelings for the underworld (see City on Fire). Then there’s proud Inspector Carson Fong (Shawn Yue), who finds and attempts to catch Tien’s gang in their vehicle the night of the robbery on a traffic stop — but ends up merely catching the mother of all beatdowns.
Chan dedicated as little time to exposition as ever here; it’s not even 3 minutes in by the time tragedy befalls Detective Chan’s fiancee (all you need to know to share his righteous anger and determination is that she was so, so cute). Yet despite the hard details being limited, the film is so ingeniously designed around the characterization of its leads that it feels remarkably full-bodied and engrossing for the kind of movie that it is.
At this juncture, Chan’s direction was reaching its most intricate and perceptive point, shown in how convincingly he lays out battles of wits between cop and crook (like the antagonist gang’s ruse about helping a pregnant woman and how it gets blown). At the same time however, he moves it all along so briskly that even at a surprisingly long 129 minutes, if anything this gets closer to feeling rushed in places than ever slow-paced.
Really, IT could more or less be considered as a more mature, more polished (if less giddy) version of Gen-X Cops. After all, there are many similar elements: three lead cops who don’t get along at all; jumps back and forth between gunfighting and kung fu fighting; and even a similarly cool “outsider” villain (this time having erhu music accompany his appearance to immediately delineate he’s a Mainlander, in the same way the shakuhachi did so for Gen-X’s Japanese villain). That said, Wu Jing’s villain is the most appealingly fleshed-out character of all, being by all means ruthless but with strict codes of morality and honour, and — maybe buried somewhere — a conscience.
The rich character dynamics seen in Heroic Duo are also even further developed here. Wai makes it a point to place his duties above all else while Insp. Chan doesn’t mind allowing his vendetta to consume him. True, Carson’s motivation for justice seems so much less than those of the others (basically, he’s just mad that he got his ass whipped); but that’s the point, since the brashness and vanity the movie lays out for his character makes it clear that for him, that is the ultimate transgression.
So here more effectively than any other movie of his, Chan is exploring and having fun with the clash of personalities, giving all three cops steadfast but very different senses of justice weighed against each of their personal grudges driving them to crack the case even harder. They’re even made to have special relationships and fascinating exchanges with the two main antagonists, who are also given distinct personalities and motivations.
IT is also notable for being the most martial arts-heavy of all Chan’s crime films (even more so than the Taekwondo-themed What a Hero! and the Jackie-starring New Police Story). That works out, as the hand-to-hand fighting is also the most rousing, due to the crucial distinction that nearly all the stars of this one were already accomplished martial artists, thus having little need for stuntmen, camera tricks or computers (or wasting time with comic relief characters). And that’s where Jaycee especially gets to shine in his first role that has him truly following in his father’s footsteps, taking the film’s most painful and dangerous bumps alongside Wu Jing.
Invisible Target is one of HK’s best pure action movies of its era and one of the few to truly revitalize the action-martial arts-crime formula that was uniquely prevalent in the second half of the 80s and first half of the 90s. There’s only one part I recall where the action even lets up for more than 5 minutes, yet it remarkably manages to develop its main characters on both sides of the law to an extent that the audience is heavily invested in their battles. That leaves a rare all-out action movie with something of a mind, heart and soul — even if all three have to squeeze out their presence amidst whirling flurries of kicks, bullets, high leaps and falls, crashes and explosions.
Join us next week for the next in our The Benny Chan Cops & Robbers Rundown.
This movie’s gang didn’t choose their target for robbery at random (though they weren’t after luxury goods): The high-end area that gets blown up at the beginning in Central District of Hong Kong Island (Chan’s favourite location) is near the subway station (MTR) called Hong Kong. So as it’s the Hong Kong Station on Hong Kong Island which is all part of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, the spot is sometimes formally referred to in short as — I kid you not — Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Hong Kong.
If Jaycee had only gotten more roles like this — as far as I know far and away his best movie and also one of very few particularly successful ones — he could’ve been headed to stardom at least somewhere a bit near the level of his father. Instead, most of the time he ended up in fluff comedy/romance idol vehicles. And unfortunately, before we got to find out if there was more to come along this film’s lines, in 2014 his career was derailed by a jail sentence from an ostentatious pot party in Beijing that he got busted for hosting and roasting.
That’s really just peanuts on a Hollywood actor’s rap sheet (or among music acts for which Jaycee was also, even taken as a badge of honour sometimes). But for Jaycee’s case it stung extra-sharp; both for the fact he was caught for it on the Mainland (which doesn’t rule out capital punishment for the charges), and that his father had a wholesome, sometimes preachy public image that included vigorous official anti-drug campaigns. Jaycee did come back a couple of years after serving his curious 6-month sentence, but with a much more sparse and auxiliary output of roles (including as support to his father in 2016’s Railroad Tigers).