This is one of the most challenging films I have had to review, I am completely undecided about this film. Overall, I have a favourable impression of this movie but only because it tried very hard to be an entertaining, innovative and exciting action movie. My problem lies in deciding whether it succeeded in being this, i.e. its execution.
Hot War was released in HK in Dec 1998 and took a respectable HK $9,296,000 during a 5 week run (to give perspective - Mr Nice Guy took HK $45,000,000 in 1998). It seems to have utilised a reasonably large budget, although most was used on computerised special effects rather than explosions and stunts. Some of the early scenes look truly inspired by the Matrix, but 'it seems' to me that this may pre-date the Matrix? (by quickly comparing release dates).
The film stars Ekin Cheng (Return to a Better Tomorrow, Young and Dangerous, Storm Riders) as Tango and Jordan Chan (Young and Dangerous, God of Gamblers 3, Chinese Ghost Story) as C.S. Koo. Having worked together many times before on the Young and Dangerous films, their on-screen chemistry gives the main characters a credible feel. Although this was Jingle Ma's directorial debut, he has a truly remarkable resumé as a Cinematographer and it is a certainly not a directorial failure.
The other main notables are Kelly Chan (Chinese Ghost Story) as Blue, who is Ekin's love interest and Terence Yin (Gen X Cops) as Alien. Yin's performance as the peroxide blonde baddie definitely seems to have inspired a similar character in 1999's Purple Storm, which is all the more interesting because Jackie Chan produced both movies??? And just in case you had not guessed, the artwork on both disks is very keen to remind you of this!
Jordan, Ekin and Kelly look so happy!
mmm... very cool effects
Most unnecessary chase ever!
I shall not spend too long on this movie's plot, mainly because it could either be described as sophisticated, or as scattered and over-complicated. Basically, there is (as for the police force in Purple Storm) a 'very good looking' Secret Project team bought by the CIA to develop super-fighters through a 7 day intensive subliminal and hypnotic programme, i.e. Koo, Tango and Blue. Unfortunately Blue is kidnapped and Tango and Koo decide to become super-fighters to rescue her and prevent the bad guys from using the stolen hypnotic technology to create riots in Asia through subliminal TV signals during the 1998 World Cup!
I personally think that this film in its own right was quite an exciting plot, but... then Koo goes crazy, Tango is re-programmed to kill Koo and there's a few more developments and twists I won't spoil. It can be suggested that this film tries one subplot too many and is over-concerned the audience will not get the excitement they crave. Perhaps a bit more faith by Jingle Ma in the lead roles would have allowed more character development as opposed to some cheapish frills (see the Paraglider chase through Hong Kong - pictured left), but having said that, it is certainly not a predictable plot.
Terence Yin trying to look mischevious
More training sequences....
Possibly the highlight of this movie for me is the 15 min training scene early on where Tango and Koo become super-fighters. This is the part that shows some genuine budget is truly inspired. It is really imaginative, clever and well executed and shows the way forward for the modern HK action flick. Compared to the poor special effects at the end of Purple Storm, this looks slick and expensive. However, from then on we are kept to more conventional gun fighting / martial arts. The gun fights are capably done but for me the fighting is where the movie struggles. Noting that Jingle Ma was a cinematographer on Fong Sai Yuk and Drunken Master II, I really think these scenes were below par and were crying out for a good action choreographer. The fighting did not flow and lacked credibility. I kept wishing that one of the leads would suddenly become Jet Li or Donnie Yen.
And to make matters worse the end fight was on the top of a stylish new
skyscraper. I really cannot watch this fight objectively after seeing
Jackie Chan vs. Ron Smoorenburg fight on a skyscraper in Who Am I? A lot
of people do not think it is Jackie's greatest, and there I agree, but
has there been many better fights since 1995 in Hong Kong Cinema? Sadly
not. Similarly, the gun play and Koo's and Tango's relationship are heavily
John Woo inspired, but predictably inferior to Woo's classic material.
The disc is a nice letterbox print, as would be expected of a recent movie, but the Dolby 5.1 Surround seems slightly over-laden with bass. The extras are very standard and well presented and this helps create a good, if unexceptional DVD.
I could be really harsh in my assessment of this movie, but it scores
very heavily for its genuine attempt at creativity. For all the unnecessary
subplots and token characters, there are some exciting moments on this
disc, that are on a par with the best of Hong Kong Cinema in the last
five years. It is hard to watch this film without wishing Jackie was starring,
or Woo was directing, but eventually Hong Kong films will have to innovate
(rather than imitate), and there are many parts of this movie that do
Even more training ahhh......