With top action director Benny Chan at the helm, and a premise revolving around super mutants attacking Hong Kong, “City Under Siege” has been one of the more exciting prospects of the year. Boasting plenty of special effects and explosive set pieces, the film’s blockbuster credentials are furthered by a top notch cast headlined by Aaron Kwok, with support from the eternally popular Shu Qi, current martial arts darling Wu Jing (“SPL”), Zhang Jingchu (recently in Feng Xiaogang’s “Aftershock”), and Colin Chou (“Flash Point”).
Kwok stars as Sunny, a dim-witted though friendly circus clown, who harbours hopes of following in his famous knife throwing father’s footsteps. Whilst on tour in Malaysia, he tags along with the unpleasant Cheung (Colin Chou) and his cronies when they try to loot a cave containing Japanese World War 2 gold. Unfortunately for them, the cave also housed a secret laboratory dedicated to biological experiments, and Sunny, Chou and the others are caught in a gas cloud that starts to transform them into powerful mutants. With Sunny’s body containing antibodies that prevents his body from being uglified, he inadvertently becomes a hero back in Hong Kong after being discovered by television reporter Angel (Shu Qi) and a couple of mainland government mutant specialists (Wu Jing and Zhang Jingchu). Understandably annoyed, Chou and his mutant gang show up in the city, intent on causing chaos and generally being menacing and destructive.
Thankfully, “City Under Siege” is every bit as daft as it sounds, being incoherent, bizarre, sloppy, and a huge amount of fun. It really doesn’t take long for the viewer to realise this, when around fifteen or so minutes in, Aaron Kwok is forced to endure a truly ridiculous looking fat suit, for no real discernable purpose. Its pretty clear from early on that the film stars the “Murderer” Kwok rather than the talented thespian that featured in “After this, our Exile”, with his bizarre performance being another of his crazy, over the top roles, seemingly channelling Forrest Gump with his constant repeating that ‘life is like a flying dagger’. Kwok deserves nothing but praise for his wacky face pulling, managing to lift his Sunny from what could have been a truly grating and annoyingly written character, to someone who the viewer can at least enjoy laughing at.
The rest of the cast don’t fare much better, with the evil mutants in particular being a ludicrous bunch who seem to be a bit evil seemingly just for the sake of it, having no discernable scheme or motivation for their few acts of mild badness. Special mention goes to Colin Chou, who even manages to give Kwok a run for his money in the over acting stakes, as his villainous Cheung suddenly makes a last act shift to love struck sap. This leads to some hilarious scenes, including one where a vaguely embarrassed looking Shu Qi confronts the randy mutant as he tries to snatch her, and completely confuses him by asking if he really knows what love truly means.
Acting aside, the film also has a lot going for it in the enjoyable trash department, with the plot being only marginally more sensible and coherent than “Future X-Cops”. The film is certainly cut from the same cloth, trying to cover far too many bases and leaping off on odd tangents at the drop of the hat, such as Sunny’s becoming a recognised hero figure and getting involved in advertising and television work, appearing in a commercial for nasal decongestants and hosting his own cooking show. These and other scenes make for lots of presumably unintentional laughs, and it helps that Chan doesn’t appear to have been taking the film very seriously at all, painting everything with weirdly lurid colours and allowing the tone to veer wildly from out and out comedy to straight faced mock seriousness.
As a result, the film doesn’t really have a dull moment, with Chan also throwing in plenty of action, most of it random. A few scenes of mass carnage and car tossing aside, which are usually inserted without any kind of context, the fighting mostly revolves around the apparently super powered mutants throwing knives at each other. This in itself adds yet another layer of daft fun to the proceedings, not to mention plenty of shots of spectacular CGI enhanced slow motion. To be fair, there are a more traditional few martial arts scenes here and there, courtesy of action directors Nicky Lee and Ma Yuk Sing (who between them have worked on the likes of “Storm Warriors” and “Invisible Target”), with the always awesome Wu Jing getting a few chances to show off his skills, and with most of the cast being flung through the air on at least one occasion. The special effects themselves are probably better than the film deserves, with the mutant make up being suitably freakish, involving loss of facial hair, protruding pink veins, and judicious use of eye liner.
Whilst there is no denying that “City Under Siege” is a complete and utter mess, it still stands as one of the most entertaining of this year’s Hong Kong blockbusters. No one does over acting quite like Aaron Kwok, and his fine performance marks the film as being this year’s “Murderer”, which gives a very good indication of just how much fun it offers, intentional or otherwise.
Benny Chan (director) / Benny Chan, Chi-man Ling (screenplay)
CAST: Collin Chou … Zhang Dachu
Chrissie Chow … Youyou
Aaron Kwok … Sunny
Qi Shu … Angel
Nan Tie … Liu Zhenxing
Jacky Wu … Sun Hao
Terence Yin … Kai