Noted editor and director David Wu blasted back into Chinese cinemas in 2011 with “Cold Steel”, a wartime sniper thriller that after enjoying success at international festivals finally lands on DVD. Wu has certainly had an interesting career, having worked with John Woo as editor on several of his classics including “A Better Tomorrow”, “Bullet in the Head” and “Hard Boiled”, as well as directing “The Bride with White Hair 2”, before enjoying success in the US as a director of genre and television fare. For his return to Asia, Wu assembled an interesting cast, headlined by Peter Ho (“Sophie’s Revenge”) and veteran Tony Leung Ka Fai (“Election”), with support from actress Song Jia (“Once Upon a Time in Tibet”), martial artist Yu Rong Guang (“Iron Monkey”), television star Wilson Guo (“Palace”) and John Woo’s daughter Angeles Woo (“Reign of Assassins”).
Based on a popular online novel, the film sees Ho as Mu Liangfeng, a young hunter who gets dragged into the army after trying to protect attractive war widow Liu Yan (Song Jia) from rowdy soldiers in her teahouse. After grabbing a rifle and saving the convoy from a Japanese ambush en route to the army camp, he is singled out for his considerable gunmanship, and pushed into the newly formed sniper unit led by veteran Zhang Menzi (Tony Leung Ka Fai). Enjoying success in a series of dangerous missions aimed at slowing and sabotaging the advancing Japanese troops, the unit is soon being targeted by a particularly vicious Japanese sniper colonel, who takes the fight back to Mu’s hometown.
Sniper films are always fun, and “Cold Steel” certainly ticks all the right boxes when it comes to action. David Wu is a great director in the kinetic style, and his skills as an editor really shine through as he pulls together plenty of fast moving and superbly constructed gun battles and set pieces, the film showing a fine balance of grit and over the top bombast. Though frequently referencing other films, most blatantly the recent Hollywood “Bourne” series and (unsurprisingly) the classic works of John Woo, the film makes great use of its influences and is slick and thrilling throughout, serving up easily some of the best and most professionally handled genre fun from China in recent years. It also helps that the film is at times spectacularly bloody, with a huge body count and an impressive number of explosive headshots. Although there’s inevitably a fair amount of CGI employed, Wu still manages to give things a visceral impact, and the film packs in a very pleasing amount of bang for its buck.
Sadly, the film’s effectiveness as a high octane thriller is lessened somewhat by the fact that he’s clearly a better director and editor than he is a storyteller and writer, the very basic plot at times getting bogged down by needless and clumsily handled melodrama. While the film thankfully moves along at a fast clip, the tone is a bit uncertain as a result, staggering between romance and light-hearted camaraderie and bloodily-hammered home horrors of war. Though the acting is generally fine, the character development is similarly a little lacking, and there’s no real depth or the kind of emotional attachment which would certainly have given the finale a great deal more punch.
Still, this is probably hoping for too much, and as a sniper thriller “Cold Steel” definitely delivers the goods, with more than enough stylish action and explosively bloody battles to keep fans happy. David Wu is undoubtedly a very talented genre director, and it’s great to see him behind the camera again, though hopefully next time he’ll be backed by a better script and less in the way of the kind of sappy melodrama which frankly no-one really wants to see.
David Wu (director) / David Wu (screenplay)
CAST: Victor Chen
Tony Leung Ka Fai