Bottom Line: Hard-core fist-for-fist action is more than a flash in the pan.HONG KONG -- After last year's gaudy, CGI-crazy "Dragon Tiger Gate," veteran Hong Kong director Wilson Yip Wai Shun goes back to basics in "Flash Point." Those dazzled by the cut-and-thrust slickness of 2005's "S.P.L.: Sha po lang" will experience another kind of adrenaline rush in a "sequel" that hawks its realistic interpretation of MMA, or mixed martial arts, a school utilizing a melange of disciplines from Chinese wushu to boxing.
Boxoffice in China yielded about $1.9 million after three days. The film has been selected for the midnight section at the Toronto International Film Festival and easily should find its way to the North American DVD market.
Donnie Yen reinvents the role of Ma Jun, the dynamic but by-the-book policeman in "S.P.L.," as a violent cop who breaks every rule in the system -- and every rib of his culprits. His adversaries are a trio of drug-smuggling brothers from Vietnam: Archer (Lui Leung-wai), Tony (Collin Chou) and Tiger (Yu Xing). In a move to expand their turf, they try to assassinate a rival, who survives and agrees to testify against them. With the help of Ma's buddy, undercover cop Wilson (Louis Koo), police arrest Archer; Tony and Tiger escape, while Wilson is handicapped in the operation.
This sets the stage for a plot of nail-biting tension, one in which a falling battery plays a pivotal role -- a neat variation on the slo-mo falling coin in "Bullets Over Summer." Cinematography, editing and even the bass-heavy music are executed with the same briskness as the close-contact style of MMA. One elevator scene is shot like a boxing match with the camera nudging up to within an inch of Ma's face as he delivers a uppercut to his opponent, while a female cop aiming wildly with her gun encircles them like a referee in the ring.
Shooting a duel in an outdoor food stall, the camera is almost as acrobatic as the action stars. Skirting nimbly around tables turned and a girl being flung across the street like a Frisbee, it captures at close range Ma and Tiger wrestling each other with bare hands.
The final showdown is a prolonged 7 1/2 minutes of unarmed combat. As if afraid to detract attention from the real action, the set is just a makeshift hut, knocked up only to be knocked down. Even the camera pulls back to let Ma and Tony let go and let rip. Ma stops only for a second, not to catch his breath, but to take off his jacket so you can admire his biceps.
Now in his third collaboration with action director Yen (after "S.P.L." and "Dragon Tiger Gate"), it's tricky to tell where Yen's influence begins and Yip's direction ends. With the help of Yen and his team of martial artists (including Kenji Tanigaki of "Shinobi" fame), the action set pieces are spread out sparsely but have stronger impact.
Yet gone are the enthralling human dramas, the quirky personalities and vivid evocations of place -- trademarks of Yip's best-loved works such as "Juliet in Love" and "Bullets Over Summer." The plot development of "Flash Point" is purely utilitarian, like a shuttle bus that transports stock characters from one action set to another.
Mandarin Films Distribution /Chang Ying Group/Polybona Film Distribution/Beijing Enlight Pictures
Director: Wilson Yip Wai Shun
Screenwriters: Szeto Kam Yuen, Nicholl Tang
Producers: Nansun Shi, Donnie Yen
Executive producers: Raymond Wong, Yu Dong, Wang Chang Tian
Action director: Donnie Yen
Director of photography: Cheung Man-po
Production designer: Kenneth Mak
Music: Chan Kwong-wing
Costume designer: Lee Pik-kwan
Editor: Cheung Ka-fai
Ma Jun: Donnie Yen
Wilson: Louis Koo
Archer (aka Ja Ge): Lui Leung-wai
Tony: Collin Chou
Tiger: Yu Xing
Fan Bingbing: Julie
Inspector Wong: Kent Cheng
Running time -- 87 minutes
No MPAA rating