Xiyang Tianshi (So Close, 2002)


FILM REVIEW || Director Corey Yuen | Writer Jeffrey Lau | Cinematographer Kwok-Man Keung (as “Venus Keung”) | Starring Zhao Wei, Karen Mok, Shu Qi | Length 106 minutes | Seen at home (DVD), Sunday 10 November 2013 || My Rating 3 stars good


© Columbia Pictures

I suppose having plot-heavy action films is probably nothing new, but it seemed like something that really started to catch on after the success of 1996’s Mission: Impossible (incidentally, would that film be called a ‘reboot’ nowadays?). The Bourne films gave that kind of set-up a real-world torn-from-the-headlines spin, but in this Hong Kong film of 2002 the filmmakers’ plot maximalism is all in the service of very little more than diverting thrills. It does mean that it can be very difficult to figure just what’s going on, especially when there’s little compulsion to try and understand it. The point I suppose is to just go with it. At least one of the three female leads is going to end up on top, so the question is really just which.

The set-up involves some high-tech cyber-espionage, practised specifically by glamorous sisters Lynn (Shu Qi) and Sue (Zhao Wei). Hot on their heels is preternaturally-gifted detective Kong (Karen Mok), whose dorky assistant may be the only male cast member portrayed positively in the film, though there’s also Lynn’s boyfriend, a presence so forgettably underdramatised as to be non-existent. The point is that everyone else aside from these three is basically just a mark whom each effortlessly manipulates, and that’s just fine by me. It’s never really clear quite what Lynn and Sue are out to gain — if there is an explanation I missed it. You get the feeling that in an American remake the filmmakers would be at pains to show that the two sisters are out to avenge their father or some such, but here it’s largely immaterial.

The key to the film is the hunt by the detective for these two women, and what malign forces that hunt uncovers. It also motivates plenty of thrillingly action-filled fight sequences, using all the techniques which by this point have been mastered within the Hong Kong film industry. There are various kinds of weaponry deployed, wire-assisted balletic leaps and intricate martial choreography, aided by the stylised camerawork and vertiginous locations in high-rise buildings. It can all go past in rather a blur, but there’s panache to the editing, and it’s always clear what’s happening — at least within the fight scenes, if not the rest of the plot.

The acting is strong enough to give life to each of these three characters, and Zhao Wei really comes into her own by the close of the film, as her character moves into a far more active role. It’s not by any means a perfect film and the post-synching in particular is rather distracting at time (I understand it was dubbed from Mandarin into Cantonese for its release). However, it’s difficult to really take against it, daffy and digressive as it is, because it is, primarily, a lot of fun.

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