Crunch! Bam! Ouch! Wow! Great action movies make you want to express yourself in exclamation marks. As evidenced by Invisible Target, the Hong Kong film industry has forgotten more about making action films than Hollywood will ever learn. Invisible Target may not be strikingly original in either its plot or action choreography, but there's definitely something entirely positive to be said for a film that intends to be nothing more than a delivery system for adrenaline and keeps its promise in a very satisfying fashion.
A gang of thieves led by Tien (Wu Jing) and Yeng-yee (Andy On) blows up an armored truck so they can steal the millions of dollars that are secured inside. The explosion is so huge and fiery that it wipes out nearby cars and stores, including a jewelry shop where a woman is shopping for wedding rings. The woman is the fiancee of police detective Chan Chun (Nicholas Tse); six months later, he is still grieving her loss and aching for a chance to avenge her death.
Having fled Hong Kong after the robbery, Tien's gang is forced to return in search of their share of the booty, which was not paid as promised by their "invisible" boss. They cross paths with another police investigator, Fong Yik-Wei (Shawn Yue), who is as arrogant as Chan is brooding. Fong and his squad are in the process of making a drug bust when Tien's gang bursts in, displaying a brazen defiance of police authority. Fong suffers further when he is forced to (literally) eat lead. He aches for the chance to avenge his humiliation.
On the streets of Hong Kong, we meet Wai King-Ho (Jaycee Chan) in a stiffly starched police officer's uniform, writing a traffic ticket despite the offender's protestation that he has influential friends in the police department. Wai is a righteous and honorable cop; he lives respectfully with his grandmother (Lisa Lu) but has a cloud hanging over his head. He has followed in the footsteps of his older brother, who also joined the police. His brother infiltrated Tien's gang, but reportedly turned to the criminal side and hasn't been seen or heard from in years. Wai aches for the change to redeem his brother's good name.
Everyone assumes that Wai knows where his brother is, and pressure is applied on him by both Chan and Fong, who have been working separately but soon join forces. They become a trio of sorts, with Wai as the youngest member, after an extended scene, played for laughs, in which every glass surface in a two-story restaurant is smashed to smithereens. The sequence highlights Wai's inexperience and tendency toward self-righteousness: the three men are all off-duty when an argument erupts upstairs and Wai needless involves himself as a police officer. He feels he must step in, while the other two are sufficiently experienced to stay out of it. But the scene also shows that Wai can't handle the escalating tempers of multiple combatants by himself; he needs help. Indeed, even after the two officers finally lend a hand, there are simply too many angry people for them to contain by themselves, and they wisely slip out and call for help.
The underlying idea that cops may be individually strong but are even stronger when joined together as a team is at variance with the classic Police Story films of the 1980s that helped make Jackie Chan a star. Chan was often shown as a renegade bucking the system and left alone to fight dozens of criminals. The "one against many" action-hero mode was very similar to action films being made in Hollywood at the time, in character if not in style, and may have helped pave the way for Chan's success outside of Asia. Jackie Chan has worked extensively with director Benny Chan since 1998's Who Am I?, and in their films together, the individual has more often been trumped by the team.
I think it's worth referring to Jackie Chan's films, though he had nothing to do with this movie, because his son Jaycee Chan acquits himself quite well in Invisible Target. Comparisons are inevitable, and the younger Chan doesn't have his father's martial arts or gymnastic skills, but I think he's already surpassed him as a dramatic actor. As far as martial arts go, Wu Jing is a powerful, dynamic presence, aided and abetted well by Andy On. On the "good guy" side, both Nicholas Tse and Shawn Yue turn in good performances.
That's enough talk about plot and character, because the action scenes are, after all, why Invisible Target commands attention. I counted at least half a dozen separate and distinct sequences in which, yes, glass is broken, bad guys are chased on foot up, down, and across rooftops, a good guy leaps across a street only to be smacked by a double decker bus on the way down, cars are wrecked, people catch on fire, more glass is broken, hundreds of punches are thrown, many body parts are kicked, offices are destroyed, bullets are fired, a female gang member fights a male cop in an unheard of (for Hollywood) display of equal opportunity butt-kicking, and more glass is broken.
In short, the action sequences rock hard. And I didn't even mention the intentionally homo-erotic applying of ointment to bare male upper bodies, or the genial nature of light-hearted exchanges between cops, or the bus filled with schoolchildren that's about to be blown up. At 129 minutes in length, the film could have been shaved a bit, but it never really dragged for me. If anything, the dramatic scenes allowed breathing room between the action.
In July, I told you that The Weinstein Co. had picked up rights for North America, Australia and South Africa but had "not yet set release plans." At Fantastic Fest, Invisible Target played extremely well with a good-sized crowd, eliciting "oohs" and "aahs" of triumph and empathy. And it looked and sounded glorious on one of the big screens at the Alamo Drafthouse. I wish you could be lucky enough to see Invisible Target in similar conditions. The film deserves a theatrical release, but will most likely go direct to DVD in North America.