CATEGORIES Action, Foreign Language, Theatrical Reviews, Festival Reports, Toronto International Film Festival, Cinematical Indie, Toronto Film Festival, Reviews, Cinematical
The best possible signpost to what kind of movie you're in for comes early in Flash Point, when Donnie Yen's hard-bitten cop Jun Ma is standing before the equivalent of Internal Affairs or some other review board. Apparently, one of Jun's more recent busts resulted in a perp with " ... three fractured ribs, a broken hip ... and anosmia. ..." It only took a second to translate the subtitled medical jargon and have it sink in: Donnie Yen hits melonfarmers so hard he slaps the very sense of smell out of their heads.
And after seeing Yen in action, you believe that; hell, you're amazed anyone he slugs even has a nervous system left. Yen choreographed the action in Flash Point for director Wilson Yip, and the Toronto Midnight Madness premier of Flash Point saw Midnight Madness program head Colin Geddes reading an e-mailed manifesto from Yen about how he's enthusiastically moving towards using 'Mixed Martial Arts" for better, stronger, faster fight scenes. I don't know what, exactly, 'Mixed Martial Arts" means, but having seen it, I know I like it. A lot.
Yen's one of a group of cops trying to take down a bloodthirsty band of Vietnamese 'brothers' led by crazy-mean Tony (Colin Chow) with the brutal-crazy Tiger (Xing Yu) as their enforcer in pre-handover Hong Kong; his partner Wilson (Louis Koo) is undercover with the group already. And the fun of Flash Point isn't in the plot, which is just a return to the classic Hong Kong action Woo-niverse of cops and crooks and conflicted undercover agents. It's in the fighting.
Because, not to speak hyperbolically, Flash Point has some of the best on-screen close-quarters martial arts you've ever seen. And in fact, I've always taken it as a point of pride that, unlike many other film critics, I can't recall when -- or if -- I've ever used an exclamation point in a review. (It always strikes me as being a bit shouty, you know?) And I only mention this so you'll understand what it means when I say: Flash Point is the best martial-arts action movie I've seen in years, a masterpiece of sleek and brutal power that puts bloated Hollywood action films to shame!
And no, Flash Point's plot isn't anything new -- there's the girl (Fan Bingbing), the dedicated, portly chief, the witnesses who need protection, the final race to stop the gang. ... But you know, I know the plot of Hamlet going in, and still enjoy it. And Donnie Yen is the Hamlet of beating people up. It's not that he's not a fine actor -- he's certainly an easy-to-watch presence, even in a role as shallow as dedicatedlonewolfcop -- but man, when he's in action, he's astonishing. Or, rather, astonishing!
And Yip -- who also crafted the amazing face-off between Yen and Sammo Hung in prior Midnight Madness fave S.P.L. -- isn't just a slave to his acton sequences. There's some real wit here -- anyone who can liven up what could have been between-fight padding with elements as disparate but amusing as reckless bathing seniors, deadly delivery food and a misplaced battery (the latter two also building the tension even as they get laughs) knows what he's doing, and Yip clearly does. Plus, Flash Point moves; at 88 minutes, it doesn't outstay its welcome, and in the last half hour, the hits just keep on coming. Anybody who loves action needs to see Flash Point as soon as possible. In an age when special-effects driven, inhuman, unexciting action-less 'action movies' like 300 and Shoot 'Em Up are revered like false idols by drooling fanboys with no sense of taste (Were they, too, struck with one of Donnie Yen's annihilating blows? That might explain a lot. ...), Flash Point stands out as a true marvel and the real deal.