Tuesday, July 11, 2006

It Came from Netflix! Full Contact

This stylish, albeit hardly groundbreaking Hong Kong actioner, benefits from the direction of Ringo Lam and moreso from starring the eminently and effortlessly cool Chow Yun-Fat. As is typical for this sort of thing, the character material is as overstuffed and operatic as the action stuff.

Motorcycle-riding Thief with a Code Godfrey (Yun-Fat) makes the mistake of teaming up for a job with Honorless Thief Judge. Judge is a homosexual, by the way, although I wasn’t sure whether than was supposed to have any larger significance. The latter’s lack of ethics is established in a pretty neat opening robbery sequence. Judge (who manifests weapons via magician slight of hand tricks) and his lead henchpeople, Psycho Steroid Case Madman and the latter’s Psycho Nymphomaniac girlfriend Virgin, nastily murder several folks in pursuit of their goal.

The robbery Godfrey later joins in comes off well, but the double cross is in (duh). In the resultant cars chase, Godfrey’s partner is killed. Worse, his cowardly friend Sam is forced to shoot Godfrey, lest he himself be killed by Judge. Afterward, because this is a Hong Kong action movie, Judge blows up the entire house Godfrey is in. Even so, despite losing some fingers, Godfrey naturally survives.

After that, naturally, it’s just a question of what happens between now and the end of the movie when Godfrey reaps his vengeance on Judge. This mostly involves Godfrey learning to shoot again (after losing the aforementioned digits on his shooting hand), and then popping up in a suitable mysterious fashion until he's ready to make his play.

However, because he’s a Good Thief, Godfrey is more motivated by guilt than bloodlust. Judge killed an innocent family in attempting to murder Godfrey. The only surviver was a young woman, and she was badly burned when their house was blown up. Therefore Godfrey’s primary goal is to obtain a large amount of money from Judge before killing him, to pay for the woman’s care. (Shades of John Woo’s The Killer.)

The most interesting element of the movie is the character development of Sam. Although racked with guilt for betraying Godfrey, the formerly sniveling weakling has come into his own as a stylish and tough member of Judge’s gang. He has even successfully wooed Mona, Godfrey’s lover, as both he and she believe Godfrey dead. (Mona, of course, doesn’t know of Sam’s unwilling part in her boyfriend's supposed demise.)

Again, this movie isn’t going to set the world on fire, but it delivers the goods. I personally could have used less of the film’s trademark “zoom along with the CGI bullet” effects. To be fair, though, this was made in 1993 and thus was at least somewhat less tired back then. Moreover, the film is pretty hard edged and sleazy, enough to probably surprise people more familiar with the Hong Kong flicks of a Jet Li or a Jackie Chan.

Pretty good, if not great.