Avenging Fist (2001) Movie Review

Hong Kong actor Ekin Cheng (Second Time Around) is prolific, but unfortunately it’s the kind of prolific that goes for quantity over quality. I can scarcely sit down to watch a Hong Kong film without seeing the man’s name attached to it in one form or another. Most recently Cheng has been appearing in cameos, as he did in Young and Dangerous 6 and now in Andrew Lau’s Avenging Fist, a film in which Cheng shows up for about 4 minutes of screen time, but gets a prime spot in the marquees anyway. Can you say “false advertisement”, kids?

Avenging Fist stars a troupe of handsome 20-something girls and boys, led by Lee-Hom Wang who plays Nova, who along with his sister Belle (Kristy Yang) are the children of two ex-cops named Wing (Cecilia Yip) and Thunder (Biao Yuen). Along with their buddy Jazz (Kar Lok Chin) and a bartender/virtual combat champ name Iron Surfer (Stephen Fung), Nova and Belle lives in a future world that is perpetually dark and high-tech to the nth degree. Trouble arises when a maniacal Nazi-wannabe name Combat 21 (Roy Cheung) appears to wreak havoc on the city. Combat’s appearance draws cop Dark (Sammo Hung) into the fray. (And no, I am not making these character names up.) Besides suffering through a series of fat jokes, Dark must convince happy-go-lucky Nova that he’s destined to fight Combat 21, rescue his father who has been brainwashed by Combat 21 to do his bidding, and save the universe. How’s that for pressure on your 20th birthday?

Avenging Fist is essentially a futuristic, sci-fi version of Tsui Hark’s Legend of Zu. Both Hong Kong films do not rely heavily on CGI, bluescreen work, and computer special effects — they are built on them. The problem is that whereas Zu worked because it could fall back on its fantasy elements for its plot (such as it was) and effects-laden action, Avenging Fist is supposed to be sci-fi, and thus many of its extravagant CGI elements can’t be reasonably passed off as advancements in technology. Mind you, I can swallow as much techno-babble as the next “Star Trek” geek, but Avenging Fist doesn’t even bother to try to trick me with techno nonsense. It is what it is and you can either accept it or not.

The acting corp in Avenging Fist consists of young and fresh faces. The young men, led by Wang and Fung are appropriately young, handsome, and “cool” looking. The same is true for the women; Yang and Gigi Leung are young, pretty, and will definitely get boys’ hearts thumping. Obviously movies like Avenging Fist doesn’t need its actors to know any martial arts, and almost all of the action scenes are heavily doused — and any shortcomings on the actor’s part covered up — with elaborate effects and creative camerawork. Director Andrew Lau throws as many tricks at us as possible, everything from varied film speeds to bluescreen to CGI to stop motion. If you can think of a camera trick, Lau has used it in Avenging Fist.

The film’s martial arts action (and I use the term loosely) is choreographed by long-time Jet Li contributor Corey Yuen (Kiss of the Dragon). Yuen’s trademark fisticuffs can be spotted in sporadic spurts, mostly in scenes where the actors rely on wireworks instead of CGI effects. Unfortunately Yuen’s influences are not readily apparent in much of the movie, and as a result the actors look more like characters from a video game than actual live people doing stunts.

If there is only one reason to watch Avenging Fist it is for the appearance of Sammo Hung, who plays Dark, the overweight cop whose weight issue is the source of the film’s humor. Dark is played by Ekin Cheng in flashbacks, and supposedly the thin Cheng turned into the overweight Hung in 20 years as a side effect of using a martial arts device called a Power Glove. (Don’t ask, it’s all in the film.) Besides offering the movie a good sense of humor, it’s hilarious to watch Sammo Hung blame his weight problem on the Power Glove with a straight face. And depending on your point of view, it could also be seen as a little mean that everyone in the film constantly points out how fat Dark is. (What, there’s no such thing as sensitivity in the future?)

The cityscape and skylines of Avenging Fist are heavily influenced by other notable sci-fi films such as Besson’s The Fifth Element or even George Lucas’ recent Star Wars Episode 1. Every now and then Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner even makes an appearance. The film also borrows heavily from Lucas’ Star Wars in theme and story, in that the Luke Skywalker-like Nova has to rescue his Jedi warrior-like father, who has been brainwashed into serving the bidding of the Emperor-like Combat 21. Heck, the brainwashed Thunder even wears a metallic mask! (Well, half of a mask, anyway.)

That isn’t to say Avenging Fist is without merit. Sammo Hung is very good in the role and offers the movie’s best moments. The special effects are very well done, and much of the film looks very good. Unfortunately the fights leave a lot to be desired, and the movie has a constant aura of mass overload in that some effects seem unnecessary, and are done for the sake of having effects. There is nary a scene in the whole movie that hasn’t been touched by CGI , and this left me to wonder if the film was made for CGI-crazed people with A.D.D.

If anything, Avenging Fist reminds me of a very talented kid with a lot of creativity, but unfortunately not much in the way of storytelling ability.

Wai Keung Lau, Corey Yuen (director) / Sap Sam Chan (screenplay)
CAST: Lee-Hom Wang …. Nova
Stephen Fung …. Iron Surfer
Gigi Leung …. Erika
Kristy Yang …. Belle
Sammo Hung Kam-Bo …. Dark


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