Flash Point [導火線] (2007)
AKA City With No Mercy, City Without Mercy, The Signal
Starring Donnie Yen, Louis Koo, Ngai Sing, Ray Lui, Xing Yu, Fan Bing-Bing, Kent Cheng, Xu Qing, Teresa Ha Ping, Helena Law Lan, Tony Ho Wah-Chiu, Irene Wong Yun-Yun
Directed by Wilson Yip
Expectations: High. I’ve been pumped to see some more of the Wilson Yip/Donnie Yen films since I saw Ip Man, which was quite a while ago at this point.
Donnie Yen is a badass motherfucker. This should be a given, but some may not yet be familiar with his work. Flash Point isn’t a good starting point, but it will show you (eventually) just how badass Donnie Yen is. See the problem with this one, despite featuring the current reigning badass of Hong Kong cinema, is that it’s actually not much of a martial arts film until the final scene. There are flashes (and points), where bits of martial arts are sprinkled in but it never really lets loose until the final fight. This is a supreme disappointment to me, but regardless of this Flash Point remains entertaining and fast-paced throughout.
Yen plays a ruthless cop that has a nasty habit of beating the shit out of every criminal he takes down. He’s got a high rate of success at cracking cases, but the suits at the police force don’t like his brutal methods. In other movies this might be a vital plot point, or perhaps a wake-up call to Yen’s character, but in Flash Point it’s basically meaningless until the very end of the film when it all gets brought back around. Not that you need a point or a moral to the story. Anyway, he’s on the prowl for some asshole Triad dudes that are trying to make off with some money they fucked a bunch of Vietnamese gangsters out of. I recently wrote about the underdeveloped plot in Merantau, and how it wasn’t necessary to the film to have it be much more developed. In Flash Point we have the opposite, where the plot is too developed and becomes so convoluted at times that it’s hard to keep track of what exactly is going on. The thing is, it doesn’t matter. Before you know it, you’ll catch back up and figure out what’s going on. This isn’t a Bergman film, so the real reason you’re here is for a fun thrill ride, and Flash Point delivers on that promise.
Where Flash Point is unique and worth talking about is the martial art choreography. Handled by star Donnie Yen, Flash Point takes a route I’ve yet to see in a Hong Kong film and it makes the fights unlike anything else. Yen put a focus on mixing MMA moves into the choreography, so in addition to the kicks and punches you’re expecting, there’s also a shitload of bone-crunching throws and takedown holds. If you’ve ever watched UFC and wished the fights were more exciting, then the final battle of Flash Point is exactly what you’ve been craving. It’s a long, hard-fought, kick-fucking-ass battle that will forever be populating lists of awesome Hong Kong fights. If only the rest of the film featured more of this incredibly unique and interesting choreography, we could have a true legend of a film on our hands.
Instead Donnie Yen goes through most of the film doing his best to look badass, cool and sexy all at once, and honestly, succeeding handily at all three. I don’t think there’s a single scene in the film where he isn’t either: A. Wearing a Leather Jacket, B. Wearing Mirrored Aviator Shades, C. Sitting on his Haunches Staring off into Space, or D. All of the Above. There’s also a scene on the beach where he’s shirtless (and ripped as fuck!), but he does retain the shades and the haunch-sitting. Donnie Yen has literally never looked cooler.
On the filmmaking front, Wilson Yip (who also directed Ip Man) handles the directorial duties exceptionally well. He’s got a great eye for nice visuals and Flash Point looks amazing throughout. He relies a little too much on flashy, modern filming and editing techniques (such as digitally speeding up the middle of a shot that contains a camera movement to keep the film always “action-packed”), but even these fumbles are not enough for me to ridicule the film. It’s just aesthetically a little too slick for my taste, as I prefer the lawless 80s and 90s when Hong Kong cinema was at its peak, but I recognize that this is a nitpick and a personal preference.
Flash Point may not be the high-octane martial arts film I hoped for, but it is a fast-paced cops and robbers action movie that features a phenomenal end fight. I’d definitely recommend it to fight fans and Hong Kong movie fans alike; regardless of expectations you’re guaranteed to get some fun out of this one.