Explosive City
Hong Kong 2004
Directed by Sam Leong.

There's so many things wrong with EXPLOSIVE CITY it's hard to know where to begin. Perhaps with the tired idea of the kidnapping ring that raises kids to be assassins, for one. Then there's the international cast that occasionally drifts into barely intelligible English to communicate with one another. Sprinkle in absurd plot twists and impossible endings in which the main characters suddenly appear in each important location without any logical consistency whatsoever, and it all adds up to a film with lots of problems. So why is it so entertaining despite it all?

The stellar cast certainly doesn't hurt: Alex Fong and Simon Yam as police officers, and Sonny Chiba as the head of the kidnapping ring. Hisako Shirata is a beautiful assassin, who attempts to kill a presidential-type figure, but is foiled by Yam. She loses her memory, and no longer seems so fierce in custody. Meanwhile the detective on the case, played by Fong, is blackmailed by the villains to kill her or they will murder his family. From there, he ends up becoming a fugitive from the police, led by Yam, who try and track him down, while he tries to track down the assassins, with a little help from Hisako.

Director Sam Leong, while short on technique (in this film he is overly fond of quick zooms and blurry shots that zip into focus dramatically), has made a career out of international co-productions that mine various aspects of the relationship between Hong Kong and Japan. While this production still has a healthy mix of Japanese and Hong Kong actors, it lacks any sort of statement about nationality. Indeed, the subtitles on the DVD seem designed specifically to sabotage any such statement by using over-broad terms to denote any geographic location. So when our heroes go to Mongkok, the subtitles say they have gone to the "inner city"; when they go to Macau, the subtitles proclaim they are visiting the "neighboring city". International intrigue is brought in to the mix by discussing a coup that took place in the imaginary country of "Permuda".

But I'm complaining again. The movie is carried on the strength of the acting and a script that, while not particularly coherent, manages to give almost every character strong emotional stakes in the outcome. Alex Fong and Hisako Shirata need to carry the film, they are more than capable for the task. Some of the supporting actors are strong as well, from a dark and brooding Samuel Pang, to a helpful Lam Suet. It must be said that all of Sam Leong's films are flawed in some way, and yet all of them are also watchable and interesting to varying degrees. EXPLOSIVE CITY is among his best work so far, but I still feel that perhaps his best is yet to come.

Rating: Recommended (Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on February 13, 2005.

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