With the awesome “SPL” still fresh in the memory, it’s hard to imagine any Hong Kong action fan not getting excited at the prospect of “Fatal Move”. Boasting a cast reunion of Simon Yam, Wu Jing and the legendary Sammo Hung, and bringing in familiar faces such as Danny Lee, Tien Niu, Lam Suet and others, the film promises old school triad thrills, beefed up with plenty of bloody violence. Also in its favour is the fact that the film marks director Dennis Law’s follow up to his excellent martial arts Wu Jing vehicle, the similarly titled “Fatal Contact”, which certainly showed him to be more than capable of giving the modern genre a much needed shot of adrenaline.
The plot follows time-honoured tradition to the letter, focusing on a troubled triad gang led by Big Brother Lung (Sammo Hung). Poor Lung has all manner of problems, fighting to retain his turf against fierce enemies and having to out-think the scheming plotters who seem to riddle his organisation. Even his trusted right hand man and boyhood friend Tung (Simon Yam) adds to his worries by running up massive gambling debts, while his young enforcer Tin Hung (Wu Jing) starts to show a threatening taste for overkill. At the same time, Lung is stalked by Inspector Liu (Danny Lee), a dogged cop who is determined to bring him down while trying to prevent the city from being engulfed by chaotic gang war.
Obviously, a film like “Fatal Move” should be judged on its action and thrills rather than plot or characters, and on that level it certainly scores high, with a pleasing number of entertaining and explosive set pieces. Most of the action comes in the form of gun battles and swordplay, with only one real martial arts duel thrown in – a stunningly gratuitous, though by no means unwelcome sparring match blatantly inserted to give Sammo a chance to show that he still has his considerable skills. The choreography, by Li Chung Chi (recently responsible for “Invisible Target”), is tight, if not particularly innovative, and he serves up a handful of breathtaking shots amongst the usual brawls and police shoot-outs, thankfully not relying too much on slow motion or wire-work.
Fans will no doubt be pleased to hear that the film certainly earns its category III rating, being exceptionally bloody and violent throughout, with limbs flying all over the place and a body count which quickly spirals out of control in fine fashion. Also included for good measure is a pretty rough torture scene, which comes complete with teeth and fingernail pulling in a real hark back to the older and nastier days of the genre. Although the use of CGI blood is a bit distracting, all of this gives the film a tough and visceral feel, as does the fact that Law shows a pleasing ruthlessness in bumping off the film’s precious few sympathetic characters. This helps to underline its depiction of triad life as being dog eat dog, characterised by backstabbings and betrayals rather than the usual melodramatic glamour.
The film isn’t quite action cinema nirvana, and it does sag somewhat in the middle when Law allows things to slow down. Indeed, away from the scenes of blood and fury his direction is quite indifferent, as if the dramatic aspects of the film were of considerably less interest to him, and this unfortunately rubs off on the viewer. To be fair, he does manage to pull things together at the end for a reasonably emotional climax, though the sentimental flashbacks and sudden delving into the characters’ past relationships comes a little too late, and it’s hard to shake the feeling that the film could have been trimmed by half an hour or so to make it a lean, mean, fighting machine.
Still, this isn’t too much of a criticism, and the slower stretches do at least give viewers a chance to catch their breath. As it stands, “Fatal Move”, though not as good as “SPL” or “Flash Point” is nonetheless an excellent piece of Hong Kong action that is far superior to the vast majority of other recent genre efforts. An absolute must-see for fans of the cast or indeed anyone looking for intense thrills, it confirms Law as one of the prime purveyors of the form and gives renewed hope for the future of triad action films.
Dennis Law (director) / Dennis Law (screenplay)
CAST: Sammo Hung Kam-Bo … Lin Ho Lung
Simon Yam … Lin Ho Tung
Niu Tien … Soso
Jacky Wu … Tin Hung
Danny Lee … Senior Inspector Liu Chi Chung
Siu-Fai Cheung … Lo Ting Fat
Maggie Siu … Janet