Iceman 3D: Film Review

Ice cold.

Law Wing-cheong and star Donnie Yen team up for a big budget, 3D actioner.

Clarence Fok’s goofy but charming 1989 The Iceman Cometh gets a modern 3D retread in a film that’s been making headlines since the project was announced a few years back. Plagued by all manner of production snafus and a ballooning budget, the problems show in the final product. Iceman 3D is a fractured and often baffling martial “epic” that not even popular star Donnie Yen is likely to be able to save. Narratively confused and confusing, dotted with frequently shoddy special effects and reliant on CGI rather than Yen doing his thing (which proves to be one of the film’s more serious failings) Iceman 3D is going to have to work hard to find its audience.

The producers have clearly taken a page from Marvel’s playbook, and as a result Iceman 3D plays more like a Ming Dynasty Captain America than it resembles the original film, complete with credit sequence teaser and promise of part two arriving at Christmas—which feels more like a threat given the first chapter. Yen’s name above the title will be the primary reason for what success the film finds in Asia, and it will be even more crucial in overseas niche markets. There may be some interest from genre festivals but overall the film is too weak for that highly specialized circuit.

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Ming warriors He Ying (Donnie Yen) Sao (Wang Baoqiang, A Touch of Sin) and Niehu (Kang Yu) wake from a deep sleep after being buried in an avalanche that erupted during He Ying’s trial for treason back in the early 1620s. Accused of colluding with the Japanese and stripped of his royal bodyguard status, He Ying professes his innocence to the bitter end, all pleas falling on the deaf ears of his one-time childhood friends Sao and Niehu. Also unmoved? Cheung Yat-ming (Simon Yam, looking bored), whose wife died as a result of Japanese treachery. When the trio wakes up in a present day Hong Kong ice truck (possibly) the mood is still bitter, and after a dull and plodding fight the three scatter across the city.

He Ying’s misadventures see him cross paths with a nightclub hostess, May (Huang Shengyi, The Emperor and the White Snake) who we are supposed to find endearing because of her myriad clever ways to bilk people, chiefly He Ying, out of cash so that she can care for her elderly grandmother. This is neither charming nor resonant, as most people with elderly family to care for find alternatives to robbery. While He Ying crashes at May’s, Sao and Niehu fall in with a gang of Indian con artists and proceed to mastermind some wholly forgettable petty crimes, possibly involving Shiva’s penis. Also at work are a corrupt politician (Lam Suet) and the equally corrupt police commissioner Cheung (Yam again), who are working together to catch the three unfrozen warriors, though it’s not entirely clear why. There’s also a mystical time machine (maybe), the Golden Wheel of Time, which He Ying hopes will redeem him and that Cheung wants to get his hands on as well.

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Director Law Wing-cheong has a long list of second unit and assistant director credits as the right hand to Johnnie To (Election among others), and so it’s logical to expect at least some of To’s panache would rub off. Sadly Iceman 3D jumps around from sci-fi, to romance, to (juvenile toilet humor) comedy and back, never maintaining a singular tone. That genre mashing is not a problem in itself; Hong Kong has produced countless martial epics similar to Iceman that did just as much mashing, but the successful ones usually had a clearer vision to go with the tonal and genre splicing. Breaking the story into two films without reworking the script to maybe include a few revelations and more character development and backstory in order to sustain forward momentum is also a questionable creative decision. Iceman feels unfinished; the holes in the story and the incoherent nature of the action makes it feel as if some crucial detail (or details) is missing. As is stands, Iceman flails around hoping to move from one set piece to the next without anyone noticing there is no logic to the plot. The Indian grifters and May’s Western bosses are just two poor jabs at humor that would be offensive if they weren’t so dumb, and the most glaring anachronism (Ming Dynasty snowboarding!) doesn’t play as clever. It’s simply eye-rolling.

Fans of Yen will be sorely disappointed with the lack of choreographed fighting sequences not augmented by CG. Yen is the film’s only real selling point and by failing to take advantage of him as well as the up-close and urban Hong Kong setting that Law is no doubt intimately familiar with, Iceman 3D is as much a missed opportunity as it is a failure. Here’s hoping they’ve kept all the good stuff for part two.

Producer: Huang Jianxin, Stephen Shui, Stephen Shui Jr.

Director: Law Wing-cheong

Cast: Donnie Yen, Wang Baoqiang, Huang Shengyi, Simon Yam, Yu Kang, Lam Suet

Screenwriter: Lam Fung, Mark Wu, Toni Shum,

Executive Producer: Peggy Lee

Director of Photography: Fung Yuen-man, Kenny Tse

Production Designer: Alex Mok

Music: Wong Ying-wah

Costume Designer: Cheung Sai-kit

Editor: Matthew Hui, David M. Richardson

World Sales: Pegasus Motion Pictures

No rating, 104 minutes