Hong Kong Police Inspector Jun Ma (Donnie Yen) is a baaaaad man. How bad? When we first see him, he’s gotten news that a suspect he has been looking for has resurfaced in a gym. Ma proceeds over to the gym, gets in the ring with the suspect, and beats the living Jesus out of him after verbally relating his joy that the chump has finally resurfaced. Later, after he is reprimanded by his superiors for excessive force, a list of complaints that is an arm long, he demands an ending to the proceedings, before chiding them for wasting an hour of his time. This results in his demotion to the police force’s music department. Mind you, not that that’s going to stop him. Remember, Jun Ma is a baaaaaaad man.
“Flash Point” is a Donnie Yen action movie being sold as a cop/Triad film. Like most Donnie Yen action movies, the cops-and-robbers stuff is merely filler material until the Third Act, when Yen is allowed to do what he does best, and what Donnie Yen does best is whup ass like the Terminator on speed. So if Jun Ma doesn’t look or really act like a cop, that’s perfectly okay, because it’s a cop as played by Donnie Yen, which is the same as saying, “Just go along with it; the good stuff is coming.” And the “stuff” comes nearly 50 minutes into the 83-minute movie, courtesy of an overcooked turkey and a kid used as a volleyball by a scumbag. Don’t you just hate it when food and kids are used for evil purposes?
The plot, such as it is, follows Yen’s Jun Ma and his partner, Wilson (Louis Koo) as they go after a trio of vicious Vietnamese gangsters who are also brothers. Wilson has gotten in good with the baddies, and when we first meet him, Wilson further strengthens his street cred by throwing a bottle of wine in Ma’s face. As the case against the brothers are slowly created, Wilson realizes that his position within the organization is a precarious one, especially when the Vietnamese begins a war with the Hong Kong Triad, as well as their own benefactors. And as we all know from all our years of watching Hong Kong movies about undercover cops, bad things tend to happen to them. Sorry, Wilson, it was nice knowing ya, chum.
Since “Flash Point” was, is, and will be sold as a Donnie Yen action movie, it’s not a stretch to say that most of the viewers out there will be waiting with bated breath for Yen to stop following orders and prove his loose cannon status. (He’s actually called a “loose cannon” a number of times in the movie, including once for comedic purposes.) Unfortunately for the fans, they’ll have to wait a while, but once it begins, it doesn’t let up. This includes beating a bad guy outside a courthouse and then using him as a hostage. The film then becomes a 20-minute action sequence, as Ma takes on the Vietnamese brothers in what is essentially a running gunfight followed by an MMA match that involves leg locks, submissions, Muay Thai, judo, and at one point, Collin Chou pulls a Rampage Jackson on Ma.
While Donnie Yen, as expected, provides the bulk of the film’s action, “Flash Point” is actually more of Wilson’s story than Jun Ma’s. There is almost no background for Ma, and he seems more like a background character who wanders into the film every now and then instead of the film being about him. We are almost entirely seeing the movie through Wilson’s eyes, especially in the early parts, and it’s a shame that the film isn’t longer, because the moments with Wilson in the company of the Vietnamese makes for some very intense sequences, much of it build on the foundation of possible violence instead of actual violence. And the moment where we realize, just as Wilson is realizing, that his cover has been blown is handled brilliantly by Koo.
Which brings me to this point: I don’t know why “Flash Point” is only 80-odd minutes long. This is a film that demands to be told in something approaching two hours. Even an additional ten or twenty minutes spent with Koo and the Vietnamese would have turned “Flash Point” into an incredible crime drama that just happens to have some spectacular action toward the end. The finished product is some of that, yes, but one can’t shake the feeling that the film could have really been great, and the pieces to make that happen were left on the editing floor.
There are the inevitable nods to “Infernal Affairs” in “Flash Point”, as most movies made post-“I.A.” that deals with cops and crime seems forced to adopt in some way, although Louis Koo certainly rivals Tony Leung in their ability to show false bravado when every inch of their body is crawling with fear. I’ve always been a fan of Koo, ever since he turned in a tour de force performance in Johnnie To’s “Throwdown”. As to the film’s short length, I can only surmise that the film’s lack of action in the early parts is the reason why it was chopped into a brisk 83 minutes. Where is an Extended Version when you need one?
Unlike “Sha Po Lang”, “Flash Point” lacks a signature fight, although to be fair to the latter movie, it’s somewhat hard to replicate or even meet the standards set by a Yen-Wu Jing knife fight followed by a throw-down between Yen and Sammo Hung. We’re talking titanic battles here, and as credible as Collin Chou is as a Final Boss, he’s no Sammo Hung. “Flash Point” is most certainly another notch in Donnie Yen’s growing oeuvre as an actor and action choreographer. The fact that Yen also choreographs the action explains the seamless integration of the movie’s fights with its surroundings and its leading man. When the fists fly, the director’s job is finished, and Yen’s has just begun.
“Flash Point” belongs in the new crop of Hong Kong films that have begun to take shape over the last few years and found a major following in International markets tired of the same stuff. It’s a genre with hardcore fighting that isn’t predicated on styles or even signature moves, where violence looms, threatens, and finally develops in a heated “debate” of fists and kicks. You probably wouldn’t have seen anything like “Flash Point” or “Sha Po Lang” ten or even five years ago, and it seems Yen has helped to usher in this new genre of Hong Kong action-crime films that combines grit, martial arts, and crime that has never been seen before. I’ve liked what I’ve seen so far, and may it live long and prosper.
Wilson Yip (director) / Kam-Yuen Szeto (screenplay)
CAST: Donnie Yen … Jun Ma
Louis Koo … Wilson
Collin Chou … Tony
Ray Lui … Ja Ge
Bingbing Fan … Julie
Yu Xing … Tiger
Kent Cheng … Inspector Wong
Qing Xu … Madam Lau