As the writer/director of a movie you know you’ve done something grossly wrong when your audience would rather spend time with your villains than with your heroes. Such is the case with Stanley Tong’s China Strike Force, a Hong Kong production with an international cast that purports to take place in Mainland China, but this is highly dubious considering the situations and plot of the film.
China Strike Force stars Aaron Kwok (2000 A.D.) as Darren Tong, one half of a cop duo along with buddy Alex (Lee-hom Wang) on the Mainland Chinese police force. (Mainland China, for those of you who don’t know, is what is referred to as the People’s Republic of China, or “those Communist Chinese” for those of you lacking in geographical knowledge. Re: they are not the same as the Chinese who resides in Hong Kong.) The duo is put on the case of Tony Lau (Mark Dacascos), the nephew of Uncle Ma, a Chinese kingpin who refuses to go along with Tony’s ambitious plans to bring drugs into China.
Unfortunately for Uncle Ma, Tony has already struck a deal with South Central drug dealer and all-around pimp daddy Coolio, played by American rapper Coolio. (Gee, I wonder where they got his character name?). Can Coolio and Tony flood the Chinese Mainland with drugs or can our dynamic cop duo stop them first? And who is that sexy Japanese woman in the tight silver number?
First and foremost, Coolio is a riot. Not only is he exaggerating every little bit of his rapper persona in this role, but the man is having a ball. It’s easy to tell from his moves and adlibs that he knows he’s in a movie where he’s supposed to be the “big bad American” and he relishes every scene and owns every scene. Some may think his “act” is annoying, but I found it to be somewhat endearing and hilarious.
In fact, the movie’s most interesting sequences are centered around Dacascos’ Tony and Coolio’s, well, Coolio discussing the pros and cons of China, the Chinese people, and a purple-colored pimp Cadillac. (I kid you not on that last part.) On the other hand, the film fails to generate any excitement whenever we shift back to Darren and Alex’s boring life and their love problems — Alex has one in the form of Ruby, the daaughter of the local prefecture’s Sheriff (there’s “Sheriffs” in China? I guess so.), while Darren has no love life to speak off, at least until the mysterious Norika falls into his jail cell.
The storyline is — well, the little of it said, the better. As mentioned, Coolio and Tony are trying to flood China with drugs and the two cops, along with Sheriff Lin (Ruby’s dead) has to stop them. There’s also a subplot about Norika’s mysterious Japanese woman, played by Norika Fujiwara, who proves once again that China Strike Force’s writers Stanley Tong and Stuart Whitney really did as little work as possible when picking out original character names for their international cast. I’m somewhat surprised Mark Dacascos’ character isn’t “Mark.” (Sarcasm firmly in place here.)
Norika is obviously more than she seems, and the Japanese actress does her best to look both sexy and mysterious, and actually achieves both. Unfortunately her command of English is not up to par and her every line delivery (she only speaks English in the movie) sounds as if she’s spent the previous night learning her lines phonetically. Mind you I congratulate her for at least being understandable, but her line deliveries, because of her poor grasp of English, comes out flat and with all the wrong intonations. Still, her character is one of the movie’s highlights alongside Coolio.
The rest of the acting in China Strike Force is average. Kwok and Alex play the tough cops without much flair or enthusiasm, although both are obviously very athletic men and can handle all of the movie’s stunts. Although there were way too many usages of wireworks for my taste. The movie is very down-to-Earth (if you ignore Coolio’s over-the-top performance) and the obvious wireworks ruined a lot of the movie’s fight scenes. The opening sequence, where Kwok and Alex infiltrate a warehouse to save a hostage, is a good example. Wires aid almost every scene in that sequence, and some quite unnecessarily. It seems to be wirework for wirework’s sake, and that’s not good.
Of course none of the above takes away from the fact that director Stanley Tong spent a lot of money and time choreographing the movie’s fights, car chases, and helicopter stunts. Although towards the end of the movie there is a sequence on top of a sheet of glass hanging from a skyscraper that goes on for way too long, and because of the difficulties inherent in such a dangerous stunt, the “action” comes across as flat and very fake. Tong should have realized the sequence would not look “right” on the screen and move onto something less…high up.
China Strike Force is notable for its casting of Coolio as himself, and the rapper certainly lives up to the billing. Tong and the movie’s producers must have realized early on that the movie’s highlights involved Coolio and Dacascos (Crying Freeman). How else can you explain the fact that Coolio and Dacascos are onscreen more times than the movie’s heroes?
Stanley Tong (director) / Stanley Tong, Stuart Whitney (screenplay)
CAST: Aaron Kwok …. Darren Tong
Norika Fujiwara …. Norika
Coolio …. Coolio
Mark Dacascos …. Tony Lau
Lee-Hom Wang …. Alex Cheung
Ruby Lin …. Ruby Lin