Piss and vinegar, that’s what Shawn Yue’s character Cheung in Soi Cheang’s “Motorway” has plenty of. The young buck just wants to bust bad guys speeding on the motorways of Hong Kong, but his much older and wiser partner Lo (the much older and wiser Anthony Wong) suspects he just wants to drive fast legally. Maybe, but when a legendary getaway driver named Sun (Guo Xiaodong) re-emerges in Hong Kong to help spring an old buddy, it’s up to the two street cops to stop him. It helps, of course, that Lo is a legendary cop driver of some renown himself, and who has previously tangled with Sun. Soi Cheang’s “Motorway” is all zen driving, fast cars, and street chases. There might have been a serious love interest for Cheung by way of a cute doctor at one point, but the finished product doesn’t exactly leave much room for Cheung’s social life. Which is just as well, as what few scenes the doctor does appear in, it feels terribly forced.
The first movie that will pop into your head while watching “Motorway” is, without a doubt, Nicolas Winding Refn’s masterful “Drive”. You could even say that Xiadong’s Sun is essentially Driver from Refn’s movie, except with more gray hair. Because we never get to know Sun — indeed, he’s only seen outside his cars a few times — he comes across exactly how Driver would to someone not privy to his social life — a highly skilled, cold-blooded, and psychotic criminal. Mind you, not that we get to know Cheung any, either. We do know a bit more about his partner Lo, though. Predictably, Lo is counting the days to his retirement. (Yes, that old cliche.) Josie Ho co-stars as a Detective leading the task force for Sun, but other than that, this is a Lo and Cheung vs. Sun show, as it should be.
The film makes a very conscious decision not to get bogged down with the bad guys. When they show up, they’re like the bogeyman, which I thought was an interesting direction to take. Shawn Yue is oddly likeable as the “No one trashes my car and gets away with it” rookie, and Wong, as usual, is super solid as the veteran who ends up teaching the kid a thing or two. I think the film could have done more with the love angle for Cheung, though, because besides his partnership with Lo, Cheung comes across as very detached from the rest of humanity, even the other cops. I think the cute doctor could have expanded his character more beyond the “brat cop with a radar gun”. Still, if you like brooding car chase movies (the film takes place almost entirely at night), “Motorway” is your ticket to 90 minutes of high-octane fun, and unlike “Drive”, there are actually a lot of car action sequences. The film’s climactic garage stalk sequence (with cars!) gets my vote for the most unique car chase ever.
SIX BULLETS (2012)
Jean-Claude Van Damme, fresh off his wicked turn as a bad guy in “The Expendables 2″, slips back into more familiar good guy mode in “6 Bullets”, which finds the Muscles from Brussels re-teaming with his “Assassination Games” director Ernie Barbarash. Like “Assassination”, “6 Bullets” is a somewhere-in-Eastern-Europe set action movie, this time finding JCVD playing Samson Gaul, a former French Legionnaire turned professional retriever of kidnapped kids. Apparently there is a lot of business for Samson in whatever country the film is set in, the place seemingly teeming with the heartless bastards. After a bad experience that results in a couple of young girls’ deaths, Samson declares himself done, disappearing into a butcher’s shop and booze. He’s resurrected when Becky (Charlotte Beaumont), the young daughter of MMA fighter Andrew Flayden (“Stargate: Atlantis’” Joe Flanigan) is snatched out of her hotel suite by bad guys, and the parents come to him for assistance.
Essentially “Taken” without the slick production values, “6 Bullets” is an entertaining enough effort from Barbarash, and JCVD once again proves he’s willing to tackle headier subject matters that his other direct-to-DVD action brethren avoid like the plague. Mind you, I’m not saying “6 Bullets” is a complete success, but it is, you know, very decent for what it is. Van Damme’s Samson is almost ninja-like as he goes about the joint knocking off bad guys, at times amusingly using gear that would make James Bond green with envy. It ends up being very silly, but you gotta respect Van Damme for starring in a movie where the hero is stalked by the ghosts of two bloodied up dead girls. Joe Flanigan, long removed from “Stargate: Atlantis” looks disappointingly out of place as an MMA fighter. Indeed, he only gets to throw down once, and even that is heavily edited. Van Damme, though, is in prime form as he slices and dices and shoots his way through the criminal underworld.
Like other recent Van Damme entries, “6 Bullets” proves to be a family affair. JCVD’s son Kristopher Van Varenberg plays his son in the movie, a slick Embassy something-or-rather with all the right phone numbers, and Van Varenberg’s sister Bianca Bree plays against type as one of the baddies. It might be tempting to bag on JCVD for casting family, but it helps that both kids are pretty good actors and help to balance out the really bad local thespians in the production. “6 Bullets” takes a hell of a lot of liberties with script logic, but then again, you probably expected that. It’s a very good Jean-Claude Van Damme asskicker, and his fans should get their money’s worth. Everyone else should just wait for “Taken 2″.