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Popular Taiwanese television action drama “Black and White” makes it to the big screen in suitably bombastic fashion with feature “Black & White Episode 1: The Dawn of Assault”, co-written and directed by series originator Tsai Yueh Hsun. Interestingly, the huge-budgeted film is actually a prequel to the show, losing one of the leads in Vic Chou and seeing Mark Chao’s wildcard cop teaming with top Mainland character actor Huang Bo (“Guns and Roses”) instead, joined by a star studded supporting cast that includes Angelababy (“First Time”), Alex To (“Hit Team”), Leon Dai (“Reign of Assassins”), Terri Kwan (“Prince of Tears”), and Dino and Julio Acconci from the Hong Kong band Soler.
Set prior to his partnering with Vic Chou’s Pi Zi, the film opens with daredevil cop Ying Xiong (Mark Chao), running into trouble with his superiors after yet another bust turns into carnage. Though in the bad books and undergoing psychological evaluation, he’s soon caught up in a case of national importance after a diamond deal involving lowly crook Ta Fu (Huang Bo) goes bad and exposes a major conspiracy involving weapons of mass destruction and a terrorist plot to bring war to Harbor City. Framed and on the run, Ying Xiong and Ta Fu are forced to team up to get to the bottom of things, helped by a mysterious hacker (Angelababy) and chased by a government agent (Alex To), plus a variety of gangsters, psychos and other interested parties.
Right from the go, “Black & White Episode 1: The Dawn of Assault” feels every inch the Taiwanese version of a Hollywood blockbuster, clearly every dollar of its reportedly huge budget being up there on screen. Apparently the lavish film even shipped a real life 747 aeroplane to Taiwan specifically for the shooting of the final over the top stunts, and this gives a pretty good idea of the Michael Bay style mentality behind it, with explosions and daft mayhem being very much the order of the day. The film does very well in this regard, with some suitably spectacular and professionally handled set pieces peppered throughout, and plenty of shoot outs, brawls and chase scenes to help keep things moving. The special effects are uniformly of a high standard, and the film oozes glossy extravagance throughout, never once feeling like a mere extended episode of the television show.
This is probably just as well, as like its unwieldy and nonsensical title, pretty much everything else about the film is drawn out and vaguely bloated, with a highly convoluted plot that takes real effort to follow and a running time approaching a massive two and a half hours. Although the film being a prequel does help, neatly sidestepping the need to know anything about the original series, Tsai Yueh Hsun and co seem to have felt pressed to overcompensate by complicating matters quite excessively, especially since the narrative essentially revolves round fairly basic and clichéd characters – in particular Mark Chao’s Ying Xiong, a near spoof version of the kind of rule breaking lone wolf rogue cop who largely disappeared from screens a decade ago. It doesn’t help that the plot ultimately makes little sense, and thanks to some pretty shabby scripting it’s hard for viewers to really get into the story or feel involved.
Thankfully none of this matters too much, with Tsai never taking things too seriously, and even when at its most hackneyed or tangled, the film is still a lot of fun, with another burst of action never being far away. The cast are all likeable enough in their roles and make the best of the slight material, Huang Bo carrying most of his scenes and managing to wring a few buddy comedy style laughs out of his predictably mismatched partnership with the duller Ying Xiong. Of the supporting cast, neither Angelababy nor Terri Kwan have much to do in eye candy roles, though the Soler duo are amusing in their villainous turns, chewing up the scenery, if not exactly convincing as thespians.
Aside from its baffling length, as a blockbuster flick there’s not much wrong with “Black & White Episode 1: The Dawn of Assault”, Tsai Yueh Hsun delivering a solid quotient of thrills and incendiary action. Though uneven, it’s an ambitious and occasionally impressive affair that certainly succeeds in emulating similar genre outings from Hollywood, for better or worse.
Yueh-Hsun Tsai (director) / Yueh-Hsun Tsai, Kelly Chen (screenplay)
CAST: Angelababy … Ning Feng
Mark Chao … Ying-xiong Wu
Leon Dai … Jarba
Dean Fujioka …
Bo Huang … Da-fu Xu
Terri Kwan … Xiao-qing Du
Ken Lin … A-tong
Alex To … Owens