China, 2013, colour, 2.35:1, 98 mins.
Director: Huo Yaoliang 霍耀良 [Clarence Fok].
Some memorable action and strong supports elevate a weakly-scripted vehicle for Zhen Zidan [Donnie Yen].
Hong Kong, the present day. Chen Zilong (Zhen Zidan), an undercover policeman posing as a member of the gang of Changmao Xiong (Zou Zhaolong), rescues some of his men from a rival gangster, Bao (Lu Huiguang), in a majiang game. Later, Chen Zilong is carpeted by his police boss, Zhang Jianlong (Zheng Zhongji), for wasting time on petty gangsters. Changmao Xiong indicates that he suspects Chen Zilong of being a police spy, and threatens Chen Zilong’s mother Amy (Bao Qijing). When Chen Zilong protests his innocence, Changmao Xiong assigns him to check out Luo Zhiwei (An Zhijie), a former “pupil” of Chen Zilong who’s just returned from the US and stolen some goods from one of Changmao Xiong’s Mainland associates, Liang Yaokun (Mai Changqing). Chen Zilong, who’s been an undercover cop for eight years, tells Zhang Jianlong he’ll resign from the force unless he’s re-assigned to normal policing. He agrees to do one final undercover job – which coincidentally involves checking out Luo Zhiwei in China. There, in the southern city of Nanhai, Chen Zilong works alongside two local police officers, Lei Peng (Yang Zhigang) and by-the-book detective Fang Jing (Jing Tian), and rubs the latter up the wrong way with his maverick approach. He meets Luo Zhiwei, whom he hasn’t seen for six years, in a restaurant, posing as Changmao Xiong’s emissary. During the meal, Luo Zhiwei’s partner Cheng (Yu Kang) is shot by a sniper (Zhang Hanyu) and Luo Zhiwei suspects Chen Zilong is to blame. Fang Jing, who’s been shadowing Chen Zilong, arrests all of them but is forced to let Luo Zhiwei go free. Changmao Xiong meets Luo Zhiwei and patches things up between them. He also helps Luo Zhiwei and Chen Zilong eliminate the sniper, but all is not what it seems.
After his misbegotten attempt at a romantic Valentine’s Day movie (Together 在一起, 2013), Zhen Zidan 甄子丹 [Donnie Yen] returns to what he does best – stylishly beating the bejeesus out of people – with Special ID 特殊身份, directed by another veteran, Hong Kong journeyman Huo Yaoliang 霍耀良 [Clarence Fok], of The Iceman Cometh 急冻奇侠 (1989) and Naked Killer 赤裸羔羊 (1992) fame. Plagued by production problems and long in the making – shooting initially started in Jan 2012 – it’s a routinely scripted undercover-cop movie that’s elevated from a 5/10 by some memorable action sequences, loosely likeable playing by Zhen, a taut performance by US-born An Zhijie 安志杰 [Andy On] as the main villain and a striking modern-action debut by Mainland actress Jing Tian 景甜 (more recently in Police Story 2013 警察故事2013, 2013).
The film originally co-starred China’s Zhao Wenzhuo 赵文卓 as the pupil-turned-baddie, but when Zhao left the production after a month (due to too many script changes) he was replaced a few days later by An. Production and release was also complicated by a lawsuit from Mainland director Tan Bing 檀冰 who alleged, among other things, that the film was inspired by a script he wrote three years earlier, also to have starred Zhen, called Ultimate Codebreak 终极解码). The finished result doesn’t show too many loose ends or re-writes but the screenplay – credited to four writers including Hong Kong’s late, well-regarded Situ Jinyuan 司徒锦源 [Szeto Kam-yuen] (The Longest Nite 暗花, 1998; SPL 杀破狼, 2005; Accident 意外, 2009), who died in Oct 2012 – generates little undercover tension or plot reversals expected of the subject matter. The best dialogue exchanges are actually in the odd-couple partnership between Zhen’s Hong Kong maverick and Jing’s by-the-book Mainland detective, as she bawls him out for “unprofessionalism” and he bats her off with quips. Their later friendship is much more gooey, but by then Zhen has a verbal sparring partner in An’s gangster-gone-bad.
It’s the tightly choreographed action that saves the movie, and from Zhen’s larky first fight in a gambling den, through a restaurant battle, to the finale on a half-built motorway the action star comes up with some inventive approaches that fit both his age (now 50) and his street-bruiser character rather than going for effects-assisted spectacle. The final sequence opposite An is a case in point – a close-contact, drag-down grapple that looks genuinely exhausting – and brings the two actors’ edgy screen relationship to a satisfyingly physical resolution.
Zhen generously gives most of the flashier setpieces to Jing, 25, who studied dance before making her action mark as a warrior in The Warring States 战国 (2010) between rom-com and other roles (My Belle Boss 我的美女老板, 2010; Tears in Heaven 新妈妈再爱我一次, 2012; Better and Better 越来越好之村晚, 2013). Recalling former B-movie icon Yang Lijing 杨丽菁 [Cynthia Khan] in her action scenes, and a considerably better actress than Yang in the non-action material, Jing more than holds her own on both levels amid the male cast, and has the film’s highlight – a six-minute car chase-cum-fight staged by Hong Kong ace Luo Lixian 罗礼贤 [Bruce Law] – all to herself. The only other actress in the film, Hong Kong veteran Bao Qijing 鲍起静 [Paw Hee-ching], is pretty much wasted in a few scenes as the loving mother of Zhen’s cop, as is Mainland veteran Zhang Hanyu 张涵予 as a taciturn sniper.
Technical credits are generally good, with generalissimo d.p. Bao Dexi 鲍德熹 [Peter Pau] making Shenzhen look good in widescreen as it doubles for the fictional southern China city of “Nanhai” and also contributing some atmospherically-lit night sequences. The music by Mainland rocker Dou Peng 窦鹏 jogs things along, as does the tight editing by Hong Kong’s Zhang Jiahui 张嘉辉 [Cheung Ka-fai] and South Korea’s Gim Se-hun 김세훈 | 金世勋 (who directed Jing in Tears in Heaven) that brings the whole thing in at less than 100 minutes.
Presented by Beijing Starlit Movie & Television Culture (CN). Produced by Eastern New Vision Film & TV Culture (CN).
Script: Wang Xiaogui, Qin Shuang, Chen Dali, Situ Jinyuan [Szeto Kam-yuen]. Photography: Bao Dexi [Peter Pau]. Editing: Gim Se-hun, Zhang Jiahui [Cheung Ka-fai]. Music: Dou Peng. Art direction: Lin Mu. Styling: Wu Lilu [Dora Ng]. Sound: Hou Xiaohui, Steve Burgess, He Wei, Andrew Neil. Action: Zhen Zidan [Donnie Yen]. Action choreography: Yan Hua, Tanigaki Kenji, John Salvitti. Car stunts: Luo Lixian [Bruce Law]. Visual effects: Li Jinhui, Ding Yanlai (Naga Film).
Cast: Zhen Zidan [Donnie Yen] (Chen Zilong/Dragon), Jing Tian (Fang Jing), An Zhijie [Andy On] (Luo Zhiwei/Sunny), Zhang Hanyu (Daofeng/Blade, assassin), Zheng Zhongji [Ronald Cheng] (Zhang Jianlong, Chen Zilong’s boss), Zou Zhaolong [Collin Chou] (Changmao Xiong/Long-Haired Hero), Bao Qijing [Paw Hee-ching] (Amy, Chen Zilong’s mother), Yang Zhigang (Lei Peng, police captain), Yin Ziwei [Terence Yin] (Terry, Luo Zhiwei’s sidekick), Lu Huiguang [Ken Lo] (Bao, majiang fighter), Wu Zhixiong (Da B/Big B, majiang player), Tian Xiaolong (Beijing Zai/Beijing Kid), Mai Changqing (Liang Yaokun), Yan Hua (Fa Dasheng/Big-Noise Fa, Luo Zhiwei’s associate), Yu Kang (Cheng, Luo Zhiwei’s partner).
Release: China, 18 Oct 2013.
(Review originally published on Film Business Asia, 22 Jan 2014.)