Hit Team (2001) Movie Review

The most infuriating thing about Dante Lam’s Hit Team is that it’s obviously not a low budget production, and yet so little time and effort was spent on the English translations that one wonders if there is one person in all of Hong Kong that knows proper English. Why oh why couldn’t someone spend a little time hiring the necessary people to translate the Chinese dialogue? It couldn’t have been that difficult to find someone who knows his or her English grammar. We are, after all, talking about a former English colony. The correct phrasing for Hit Team’s English subtitles is “atrociously and irredeemably bad,” and even that is a tad too kind.

Despite the above point, Hit Team is a hell of a movie, and is able to transcend its horrific English subtitles with superior technical craftsmanship and fine acting by the leads. If the movie seems familiar, that’s because it combines elements of Michael Mann’s Heat with the Heroic Bloodshed conventions of a John Woo shoot-’em-up. The result is an outstanding picture that hopefully will continue a growing trend in Hong Kong cinema. The trend in question involves realistic action and acting combined with common sense and complex writing and plotting.

Hit Team stars Daniel Wu (Purple Storm) as Chung, the leader of an elite Hong Kong police unit that specializes in all cases involving illegal guns. When a renegade team of ex-cops led by Don (Alex To) raids a criminal “underground bank” with disastrous and bloody results, Chung’s Hit Team is called into action. Chung’s investigation leads him to Ho (Kar Lok Chin), an ex-cop paralyzed from the waist down while doing undercover work. It seems Ho and Don, along with 3 other cops, are old friends that came up the ranks of the police force together. Now with their buddy down and almost out, and with the Hong Kong Police bureaucracy declaring Ho essentially “un-helpable,” Don and the other 3 have begun a campaign against the criminals in order to steal enough money to pay for Ho’s needed medical treatments. As Chung begins to unravel the noble intentions of Don’s renegade group, can he bring himself to take down the ex-cop if the chance comes his way…?

Aside from the God awful English subtitles, Hit Team has two excellent leading men at its core. Daniel Wu is proving to be one of the best young actors working in Hong Kong cinema right now, and is able to generate a great deal of intensity in every role he inhabits. Wu’s Chung is appropriately hard and tough, and although I was momentarily doubtful at the thought of the still-too-young Wu playing the head of an elite squad of cops, Wu’s gritty portrayal quickly made me shed those doubts. The other plus is Alex To, who plays the older and extremely focused and determined Don with perfect precision. Don is not all tough guy, and two brief glimpses into Don’s personal life reveals an amazing amount about the man.

The action in Hit Team is quite good, and although I spied a few usages of “Hong Kong Squibs” (where the “bullet hits” look more like lazy firecrackers popping), much of the action sequences were designed to be realistic. A street gunfight involving Don’s ex-cops and the criminals they’re trying to steal money from is one of the film’s highlights. Another scene of note occurs in the beginning, when Don’s group robs an underground “bank” and the whole thing suddenly falls apart for them, forcing the group of noble ex-cops to make a sudden and drastic decision.

Director and co-writer Dante Lam (who also has story credit) is clearly going for down-and-dirty. The director is trying to be as realistic as possible with his action, and as a result there’s very few John Woo-ish gunfights where the hero leaps to and fro with guns blazing from both fists. Action continuity, something that is grossly missing from many Hong Kong shoot-’em-ups, seems intact with Hit Team, and Lam shows great ability to maintain a constant sense of immediate danger.

Just for its action alone, Hit Team is a worthy film. Fortunately for those who need more, co-writers Lam, Clarence Lee, and Jack Ng prove to be just as ambitious. Besides the obvious morality play involving cop Chung and ex-cop Don, the film is also a fine drama, hitting all the right notes in all the right places. Of particular interest are the personal lives of Chung and Don, which come through despite the film’s relatively (too) short running length. The glimpses into their personal lives managed to tell us all we needed to know about them as men and leaders in a relatively short period.

The film does have some shortcomings, one of which involves the stereotypical Hong Kong police bosses who are ridiculously unconcerned about the welfare of their own men. Another negative is the main villain, Joe, who is played as too cartoonish and as a result, unconvincing. Both criticisms are relatively minor ones, since both parties are peripheral characters at best. Another irritating trait of Hit Team that does linger a bit is Lam’s annoying habit of pumping up the soundtrack with too-obvious music, making some scenes unbearable.

American director Michael Mann was unable to tell Heat, with all its personal stories, in a short time, and instead opted for a long running length that made his film dragged at too many spots. Director Dante Lam, on the other hand, has managed to condense all of Mann’s themes into a 90-minute film. So is Hit Team a superior film to Heat? It might just be.

Now, if only they would spend some time on the English subtitles…

Dante Lam (director)
CAST: Daniel Wu …. Chung
Alex To …. Don
Kar Lok Chin …. Ho
Jo Kuk …. Jane Chan
Joe Yiu Ming Lee …. Joe

Buy Hit Team on DVD