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For those who reveled in watching Ringo Lam’s trademark hair-raising car chases along Hong Kong’s teeming thoroughfares, Wild City offers thrills galore. The Hong Kong action-thriller maestro’s latest feature unleashes automobiles not only on multiple-lane highways and downtown back alleys, but also across pillar-strewn pedestrian underpasses. Vehicles rev over cameras apparently laid on the road – perhaps with the help of some 21stcentury visual effects – and collisions are lensed from up-close.
Such rushes of adrenaline aside, Wild City falters when compared to Lam’s multi-layered cops-and-robbers classics from the 1990s. While Lam deserves a lot of credit for sticking to his socially-conscious instincts after so much time away – this is his first film in 12 years – his screenplay doesn’t have the complexity and rich symbolism of Full Alert (1997) and Victim (1999).
Then again, Wild City – which bowed at the Taipei Film Festival before unspooling in China and the US at the end of July – might as well be seen as Lam gently easing himself back into business after his long hiatus, his return to the limelight having commenced in earnest with the Lifetime Achievement Award he received at the New York Asian Film Festival earlier this month. Despite its flaws, the film is engaging enough to reignite interest in Lam, with production of his next film slated to begin in Taiwan in September. Lam counts Quentin Tarantino among his major cheerleaders outside Asia, and Wild City should be able to draw the sizable audience for old-school Hong Kong action movies in the US and France.
While one of Lam’s clear intents here is to present Hong Kong as chaotic and laden with intrigue, there’s nothing that enigmatic about the premise itself. Most of the major plot points are unveiled in the first half-hour. Cop-turned-bar-owner T-Man (Louis Koo, from the Election diptych and Overheard trilogy) is forced to take care of a heavily plastered customer after she refuses to be taken home. Through her alcoholic-fuelled recollections, we see mainland-born solicitor Yun (Tong Liya, The Taking of Tiger Mountain) fending off the violent advances of a tycoon (Ma Yuke); the attacker, meanwhile, orders his underling – none other than Yun’s lawyer boyfriend George (Michael Tse) – to hire a group of Taiwanese hitmen to take care of her.
Yun is shown to be less important to her pursuers than a cash-filled suitcase in her possession. All is then ready for the two parties to do battle, with T-Man and his unruly cabbie step-brother Chung (Shawn Yue) taking extreme measures to protect Yun – and, later, rescue their mother Mona (Yuen Qiu, Kung Fu Hustle) – from the felons led by King (Jack Kao, who played a similar role in Full Alert) and his lieutenant Blackie (Joseph Chang, Soul). Then again, they are of course just pawns in a bigger scheme; the gradual disclosure of the conspiracy behind the much-chased money goes alongside scenes portraying the good guys, the villains and the damsel in distress as all helpless souls caught in a cat-and-mouse game beyond their control.
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The big reveal doesn’t really alter how the viewer is to understand the story. More similar to the traditional testosterone entries from which Lam first emerged in the 1980s – think City on Fire or Prison on Fire – Wild City is all about individuals bonding amid scintillating action sequences. The motives for many an act unfolding on screen – the sibling’s over-the-top heroics, the assassins’ feeble endgame – are not exactly convincing; as a result, the cast struggles to deliver full-fleshed performances.
But the visceral excitement is definitely there. Ross W. Clarkson’s camerawork and David M. Richardson’s tight editing have helped fill in some of the vagueness and voids in the narrative.
Production Company: East Light Film
Cast: Louis Koo, Shawn Yue, Joseph Chang, Tong Liya
Director: Ringo Lam
Screenwriter: Ringo Lam
Producers: Kenny Chau
Executive producers: Chris Lin, Chen Wei, Guo Man, Zhao Jun, Jacqueline Liu, Tong Wai-but, Li Yansong
Director of photography: Ross W. Clarkson
Art directors: Jean Tsoi, Billy Li
Costume designer: Ahong Cheung
Editor: David M. Richardson
Casting Director: Suen Chung-pan
Music: Dave Klotz
Sales: Distribution Workshop
US distributor: Well Go USA Entertainment
In Cantonese, Mandarin and Taiwanese
No rating; 105 minutes
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