Written by: Eric Bernt & John Jarrell, based on a story by Mitchell Kapner
Directed by: Andrzej Bartkowiak
Starring: Jet Li, Aaliyah, Delroy Lindo, Isaiah Washington, Russell Wong
My Advice: Wait and rent it.
Po (Jon Kit Lee) is asking for trouble. You see, he’s the son of Ch’u (Henry O), an Asian warlord who has relocated to the United States. That, and apparently he’s just running amok, going into clubs, picking fights–like I said, he’s asking for it. And sure enough, if you ask for it long enough, you get it. Once Po has gotten it, the obvious ones to blame are the O’Day family, led by Isaak (Lindo). But while this war between two crime organizations escalates, a wild card gets thrown into the mix: namely Han (Li), who simply wants to know who truly had his brother Po killed.
[ad#longpost]Be grateful that I just provided you with a setup. Because if you’re completely ignorant of the players involved going into the film, you are lost for at least the first twenty minutes. I found myself asking, “Who is that guy?” “Why are they fighting?” And then for about forty minutes of the film, “Who is Jet Li supposed to be? Po’s brother? His friend from the military? His accountant?” When you finally figure out the bit about the two organizations and all, it’s almost a relief to think that the editor sobered up before half the work was done.
I know you’re thinking to yourself, “Widge, it’s a Jet Li flick. What are you doing reading so much into the film?” Well, they made me do it. The primary rule of good Hong Kong cinema is: your plots and relationships should never be more preposterous than your fight sequences. If you break this rule, then what you wind up with is…well, this film. You wind up with long huge stretches of supposed story that leave you whimpering, “Please, just kick someone’s ass. Anyone’s. Please.” You wind up with this wretched sentimental musical score kicking in every time Lindo’s and Aaliyah’s characters are going to have a good heart-to-heart father/daughter talk. You wind up with a fight sequence brought to you by Naya. No, I’m not kidding. This film wants to be more than a fight spectacle, and that is its biggest failing. It isn’t smart enough to play to its strengths, and no amount of X-ray fighting or humor can save it. And believe me, there’s nothing more cinematically debilitating than a B movie that thinks it’s an A movie. At least with Black Mask, you didn’t get such delusions of grandeur.
The leads do reasonably well, with Li and Aaliyah (who does not embarrass herself in the least with her screen debut) having to deal with the smattering of good lines they are given to deliver. Normally, a film like this would get a recommendation for lovers of quality fight sequences to check out a matinee–but the film drags so long between them, I would never subject you to something like that. I recommend renting it on DVD, then just skipping to each fight scene, then returning the thing. Because the only thing that works in here are the fight sequences–not the dialogue, not the relationships, and definitely not the deflated basketball.