“Flash Point” – A.J. Hakari

In a perfect world, Hong Kong action movies would constantly be showing American flicks a thing or two about entertaining people. Their physical dynamos would have their hands full schooling the likes of Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme, keeping themselves busy by showing how real martial artists work. But the harsh reality is that not all action flicks of the Asian persuasion are as unique and mind-blowingly awesome as we’d like. Flash Point is no exception, packing the screen with plenty of diverting action sequences but otherwise leaving viewers without much else of a reason to keep watching.

Set for some unexplained reason in the months leading up to control of Hong Kong being handed back to China, Flash Point centers on a pair of dedicated cops. Ma Sir (Donnie Yen, best known to U.S. viewers from Hero and Shanghai Knights) is a tough-as-nails detective being constantly chided for using excessive force on suspects. Sheng (Louis Koo) is a bright young officer who specialized in undercover assignments. The duo’s latest case tasks them with taking down three drug-dealing brothers who are slowly strong-arming their way up the underworld’s ladder. The trio’s volatile nature and intense dedication to covering up their illegal activities makes this assignment a delicate one, albeit nothing that Ma Sir and Sheng can’t handle. But when the villains hit a little too close to home in Sheng’s case, he and Ma Sir throw the law out the window and decide to seek revenge on their own private, ass-kicking terms.

When it comes down to it, I have to admit that Flash Point delivers on the action. The film keeps you at a distance from such scenes, saving most of them until the last twenty minutes or so, so you might end up feeling that the wait wasn’t quite worth it. True, the beatdowns aren’t as brutal as one would like, but that doesn’t mean there’s not plenty of fun to be had. After teasing viewers with the occasional rumble and bomb stuffed inside a chicken (the one image you’ll walk away from the film with), Flash Point arrives at the climax with a smorgasbord of combat in store. The standout set pieces include what I can only describe as “human skeet shooting” and the final brawl, a lengthy showdown between Yen and the main baddie (played by Collin Chou, recently seen in The Forbidden Kingdom). Plus, the whole affair looks terrific from a visual standpoint, very smooth, slickly-directed, and eye-catching for quite a lot of the time.

But well-executed action sequences aside, Flash Point hardly does anything to distinguish itself from its fellow genre members. I think we’ve all accepted that people don’t go to action movies for their stories, but even by those standards, the flick doesn’t have much to offer. The whole endeavor tastes of staleness, of having just been squirted out of some Taco Bell tube marked “Action Movie.” The story is your usual cops-and-robbers fodder, and the cast of characters reads like a shopping list of action cliches. Stoic Badass? Check. Cocky Young Cop? Check. Worried Girlfriend? Check. Such effortlessness to flesh any of these thin caricatures out proves to be the film’s undoing, as evidenced by how none of the three villains are really separable from one another (Chou’s character rises to prominence seemingly out of sheer luck). Plus, the fickle subtitles don’t help at all, randomly switching character names around and managing to make one of the most simplistic stories imaginable confusing as hell.

Newcomers to Hong Kong action cinema will probably get a kick out of the gleefully violent delights Flash Point has to offer. All things considered, it’s not terrible, merely something that could have greatly benefited from some extra effort to make the film as a whole a little less dull than its title.

Rating: ★★½☆

-A.J. Hakari

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

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