A tale of high-impact drama and kick-ass action.
Donnie Yen’s 2007 movie “Flashpoint” is the much anticipated follow-up to his 2005 hit Saat po long (SPL), is an almost perfect Hong Kong action movie.
Set in the months before, during and after the 1997 handover of Hong Kong, Donnie Yen is Detective Sergeant Ma Jun, a hot-headed, arrogant but charismatic police detective sergeant who has a habit of beating up criminals and petty thieves to the point where his own actions are called into question by higher ranks.
But when a unique opportunity crops up to infiltrate a violent Vietnamese triad gang comes up, he teams up with his best friend Wilson (Louis Koo) to infiltrate the gang and bring down the three Vietnamese brothers and close down their illegal smuggling ring.
The eldest of the three, Xian Wei Cha is quickly arrested, but the operation exposes Wilson and almost gets him killed. His girlfriend, who’s been unaware of Sheng’s profession, begs him to quit the force for good, but Wilson can’t quit yet – not till he’s testified in Cha’s trial.
As the eldest brother’s inevitable trial approaches, the remaining brothers begin targeting witnesses to the triad’s criminal empire, including bombing Wilson’s family home during a home-warming party, and kidnapping Wilson’s girlfriend whilst she lies in hospital.
The triad forces Wilson to testify in favor of the gang, letting the eldest brother to go free, but Jun (Yen) intends to pursuit the gang ignoring police protocols and leading to an inevitable showdown where all hell will break loose.
Donnie Yen’s 2005 hit SPL reinvigorated the Hong Kong action genre. Up until that point the majority of action movies were populated with pop stars cashing in on their fame, or flashy cop/crime capers that borrowed heavily from the John Woo’s and the Ringo Lam of this world.
But SPL changed all that. Taking its cue from the Thailand hit Ong Bak, SPL was a cop-action movie that interwove an interesting plot with high-impact action.
Here in Flashpoint, Yen does the same. Although the movie is touted as “SPL2”, it really isn’t. Firstly, it’s set before SPL, and secondly, Yen’s character dies at the end of SPL.
However, there are similarities between the movies. Yen looks cool, charismatic and still has all the grace and dexterity that he showed in other movies. The story is interesting, engaging and rewarding. Finally, the action is crisp, hard-hitting, frenetic and intense.
Flashpoint boasts some incredible action sequences with explosive hard hitting fight combinations, which are almost always close-up, close quarter and take a lot from MMA.
It’s clear from watching Flashpoint that Yen wanted a movie where he could implant ideas, throws, arm-bars, leg-locks, and head-locks from the world of mixed martial arts and put it in a situation where the audience perhaps hasn’t seen it.
We certainly haven’t seen the style of Yen’s MMA-style action in today’s American movies (yes, I’m not including the Karate Kid rip-off, “Never Back Down”).
I also liked the story. The story was interesting, engaging and I felt involved. The triad’s relationship with their ill mother was an interesting idea, as was the heated relationship between each brother.
I also liked how Wilson secretly blamed Donnie Yen’s character for all his misfortune. You can see it in his eyes post-takedown, post-bombing of his home, and when he’s in the hospital. It’s a shame that the director did not include an argument between Wilson and Donnie Yen.
In terms of characters, Ma Jun (Donnie Yen) has the most motivations and drive. His temper and inability to deal with upper echelons of the police department add a lot to his character.
When you’re first introduced to Jun, there is a scene where Jun is talking to the camera which is designed to make you the viewer question whether his “Dirty Harry” tactics actually clouds his moral judgment. This curiously is also the last scene of the movie.
Is Ma Jun’s character the bad guy? When Jun says “I’ll leave it up to the Judge to decide” in regards to his conduct, he’s really addressing the audience. It’s an interesting idea, but there isn’t really in the movie to make you go “Yeah, he is the bad guy”, mainly because the bad guys in the movie are so clearly defined.
With all the action, drama and good storyline, Flashpoint does have its problems.
Firstly, the translation and subtitles. There are times when the subtitles aren’t right. For example when Jun’s character is questioned by his higher ranks, or when the Judge asks a question during court, they should ask “How do you pleed?”, rather than the question of “Response?” or whatever it was that they used.
Another issue I have is that it’s about 5-10 minutes into the movie before we know it’s before the handover of Hong Kong – but when this sequence has ended, does it mean we are back in present times? There is no visual cue. Indeed, it’s a full half an hour before someone mentions the year being 1997, or the handover.
The inconsistency of time could be argued as part of the story, considering that the movie is written from Donnie Yen’s point-of-view retold in hindsight – but the jumping around a lot in the first few minutes can be quite confusing.
Also, it was a bit hard remembering who all the characters were. The director should have had more visual cues to go with each character.
We know that Wilson is the one with the cigarette in his mouth and that Tiger is the big guy with the nice hat. Apart from Wilson, Tiger and of course Donnie Yen (sporting a fantastic leather jacket), it can be a bit hard remembering who everyone was.
There also isn’t enough action until way-way into the film. This is not a Police Story kind of movie where there is action and the start, middle and end. The action happens way towards the end, and it can be a bit frustrating for action heads.
Also, there is a lot of talk about the gun battles being John Woo style. This really isn’t true. Yes, the movie has heroic bloodshed as a theme, and there are bullets flying around – especially during the end, but the style is not the same.
Finally, we have the fights. Too many times during the fight sequences Yen will suddenly start spouting a cocky smile and go into “it’s a training match” and start dancing like Muhammad Ali or posing like Bruce Lee. It really got annoying. Mostly because it acted as a cue to the audience to tell them that “Yep, he’s going to win”.
I’m not sure why Yen does that in this movie. Perhaps you could write it down to the arrogance of the character, but when Yen’s doing it in the last portion of the movie – a time when he should be scared or fearing for his life and fighting to survive, he just looks like he’s a cocky bastard who knows he’s going to win because he’s the hero.
If Yen were to show fear whilst fighting, or panic or perhaps put in a situation which he is fighting a losing battle, perhaps the end-fight would be better.
Having said that, the end battle *is* amazing. It’s fast, intricate, dazzling, full-on action all the way. The pace is amazingly frenetic and kicks dust into other cop action adventures made during the past year.
All in all, Donnie Yen’s Flashpoint is amazing, intricate action movie that has a good story with excellent fighting sequences and is certainly a movie I’d recommend to watch.