Hot War (1998) Movie Review

I’m not a big fan of movies that shows more than one scene of someone typing on a computer keyboard. I have been using computers for over 10 years and unless I’m writing on a word document (say, this review right now) both of my hands are never on the keyboard at once and typing away. When I need to do something on the computer, one hand is on my mouse, the other on the keyboard. Sometimes I never touch my keyboard and can use my mouse for everything. Indeed, it’s so much simpler and more time-effective to use the mouse as the primary work horse.

But in movies, it seems the mouse is obsolete — of course, filming someone clicking annd moving a mouse around isn’t exciting. You don’t get that tak-tak-tak sound that comes with someone banging away at a keyboard. And that, dear friends, is why I hate watching movies where characters type on computers for long stretches of time. The whole thing is so obviously fake that I’m taken completely out of whatever realism the movie is trying to achieve. It’s a small pet peeve, but I can’t help it, especially when they keep doing it to me over and over and over again. Don’t even get me started on that Hackers movie.

Hot War is a Hong Kong production about 3 Chinese friends, all orphans, who grew up in the same orphanage and somehow managed to all end up working at the same CIA Chicago office on a VR (virtual reality) project that turns average Joes into fighting machines via virtual reality training. The three friends are: Blue (Kelly Chen), the female and real brains of the group; Tango (Ekin Cheng), who is Blue’s love interest; and C.S. (Jordan Chan), the third wheel about to get married.

All 3 are immersed in their lives as CIA employees until a terrorist named Alien (Terence Yin) kidnaps Blue on the day of C.S.’s wedding and blows away C.S.’s bride for no other reason except, well, she was there and he had a gun. When the CIA refuses to go after Blue, C.S. and Tango employs their VR project, and before you can say, “I know kung fu!” both men knows kung fu and has the skills of a SWAT commando. They easily break into Alien’s fortress/skyscraper posing as repairmen, rescues Blue, but that’s when things really start to go wrong.

How War begins as a really silly film. The first half is not very good, and acting throughout is atrocious by the supporting players. Even the main actors are not exactly going to win any awards. Ekin Cheng, in particular, seems content to let his hair do all the acting. Kelly Chen looks pretty but is otherwise ill-equipped to play a character that’s supposed to be brilliant. As Alien, the villain, Terence Yin looks like a 20-year old punk rocker that fell into a vat of white dye and came out with white hair. Yin seems to be competing with Cheng on whose hair can act the best. (If you’re interested, they both lost.) The supporting cast consists of almost all American actors who, amusingly, seems to all speak Chinese, even when they’re in the States and in CIA headquarter. In fact, even the CIA chief speaks Chinese in his meetings. I guess all those bilingual education really paid off.

As previously mentioned, Hot War’s first half is terrible, until one of the main characters is killed, leaving the other two to exact revenge on Alien and a financial capitalist who is trying to destroy the economies of Southeast Asian countries so he can get rich (don’t ask, it’s a stupid plot). The movie finally shifts into high gear and becomes watchable after this point.

We also get an interesting subplot about Tango and C.S. turning uncontrollably violent because of an unseen side effect of the VR training process. As C.S., Jordan Chen shows the most range and conviction as he turns from a nerd scientist to a dangerous supersoldier intent on exacting revenge. As mentioned, top-billing Ekin Cheng does little, and seems out of place next to Chen’s intensity in the film’s (much better) second half.

Had the director(s) and writers chose to make the whole film with the seriousness and style they showed in the second half, the movie might have distinguished itself as a good movie. As it stands, Hot War is too cold and too dumb to be taken too seriously.

Ma Chu Cheng, Jingle Ma (director) / Siu Man Chow, Chi Leung Lo, Calvin Poon (screenplay)
CAST: Ekin Cheng …. Tango One/Paul Wong
Jordan Chan …. C.S. Koo
Kelly Chen …. Blue Szeto
Terence Yin …. Alien

Buy Hot War on DVD