Armageddon
Hong Kong 1997
Directed by Gordon Chan.


Director Gordon Chan pulled out all the stops on this one, creating a big budget, high concept snooze-fest that should have been much better than it is. Perhaps he should have left a few of the stops in. It might have kept the plot from leaking out.

Andy Lau stars as Dr. Ken, cited recently as one of the top ten future leaders according to Century Magazine. He runs a sophisticated, state of the art, ultra futuristic business, surrounded by elite scientists from every field of research. What does he do, you might ask? What's his big innovation, what his business is working toward in a way that will make him, they think, the richest man in the world? The new concept his brilliant mind has been working toward?

WebTV.

And just think. If this movie was any longer (I shudder to imagine), perhaps we could have seen his company tank once his brilliant idea hit the market. But we are spared the story of WebTV, riveting as it could be, and instead are invited to the end of the world. The Brotherhood of Technology is knocking off the top ten future leaders one by one in inexplicable fashion. One spontaneously combusts, another dries so much he turns to powder. In the meantime, Dr. Ken is in the doldrums because his beautiful fiancee (Michelle Reis) died just weeks earlier in a sudden accident.

The CID, accompanied by a member of the British MI6 Secret Service, try to protect Dr. Ken as they believe him to be the next target. He dismisses them, however, asking that Hong Kong detective Chiu (Anthony Wong), an old grade school friend, serve as his only protection.

The greater part of the film is a detective story, unraveling slowly -- very, very, slowly. Dr. Ken and Detective Chiu, along with a gang of smartie's from Dr. Ken's geekshop, go from the crime scene back to HQ, then back and forth again. And again. The high-tech HQ has all kinds of neat looking stuff, like projection screens on the walls, banks of servers, huge satellite dishes. If only Dr. Ken was some kind of super-spy, with this kind of set, it could be just brilliant. I think Andy Lau would make an excellent Doc Savage. But here, he's just a morose guy who thinks up WebTV and fantasizes about his lost love.

And then his girlfriend shows up again, in the flesh. And then she disappears. He decides to travel to Prague, where they were going to be married, to see if she or her ghost will appear again. Detective Chiu travels with him and the next ten minutes or so are used moving them around from place to place in Prague, as if the director wanted to say, "See? Look! They're really there!" But it quickly comes to pass they have no damn reason to be there and head back to Hong Kong, where they finally confront the Brotherhood of Technology and it's enigmatic leader, Billy Connors. "A modern-day Freud," someone says. He interprets dreams? Not quite. He does something far more sinister.

Or I think he's sinister. Anyway, the end of the film explains it all, though I can't say I understood it. Fans of the X-Files will no doubt eat it up, since every episode in that series seems to end with some kind of stupid statement presented as fact that somehow manages to both render everything that happened up until that point meaningless, and yet still not resolve any open questions.

I do know the end of the world is upon us. Or nearly so. They allude to it early on, when a man spontaneously combusts in a Church, the forensic experts say, "Even his Bible caught fire," and then adds, "everything but the last chapter was incinerated." The last chapter? Hey, waitaminute! The last chapter is -- Revelations! Oh No! Later, Billy Conners seems to promise that he is working for God to bring about judgement day -- he is the prophet. It's up to Dr. Ken to decide whether to accept or reject this prophet, and accept or reject armageddon for all mankind.

Armageddon is an interesting concept which gets bogged down in a dull script and uninspired directing. Even Andy Lau adds nothing to the picture. Only Anthony Wong stands out, in a strong supporting role. Those looking for a big-budget action spectacular should look elsewhere. Action is suspiciously absent from Armageddon. Aside from a few good special effects, including the aforementioned spontaneous combustion and the abrupt death of Dr. Ken's girlfriend, there is nothing but talking heads. And a little rushing around. Oh, and everyone dramatically tries to crack a computer password for a little while. To fully understand how utterly bereft this entire picture is of action, witness the scene where Dr. Ken and Detective Chiu finally meet Billy Connors for the first time, in a subway in Prague. Instead of fighting, our heroes are immobilized, Billy delivers a monologue, and then he disappears. When at last they can move, Dr. Ken gets up and looks depressed. Disappointing, thy name is Armageddon.

Rating: Not Recommended (Not Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on April 19, 2004.


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