Benny Chan’s “Invisible Target” is one of the few Hong Kong films I have been looking forward to seeing in 2007. It joins Donnie Yen’s “Flash Point” and the Johnnie To-Tsui Hark-Ringo Lam collaboration “Triangle” as films that I hope will rekindle my enthusiasm for Hong Kong cinema, something that has waned greatly over the years, and continues to decline with every Twins movie that comes out every other week from the former colony. I have already seen and liked (though didn’t love) “Flash Point”, and am eagerly awaiting “Triangle”, but for now “Invisible Target” has arrived. And the report card? Not bad, but it could have been better.
“Invisible Target” stars young Hong Kong studs Nicholas Tse, Shawn Yue, and Jaycee Chan (son of Jackie) as three cops who join forces to pursue a group of dangerous armed robbers led by the very dangerous Jacky Wu (“Sha Po Lang”). Each cop has his own motivations: Tse’s fiancee was killed during a brazen daylight robbery by the gang half a year ago, Yue’s cops were brutalized and Yue embarrassed by the gang, and Chan’s brother, a cop who has gone undercover with the gang, has since gone missing. As for the gang, they have disappeared in the aftermath of the robbery, but have returned six months later to find their stolen loot, which may or may not be in the hands of a mental patient played by Sam Lee. (Who else would play a mental patient but Sam Lee?)
If “Flash Point” was lacking in action in the early parts, “Invisible Target” gets it right on this account. There is action, action, and more action in the first hour — and even more action in the second hour. Action junkies will not be disappointed, and Benny Chan and his choreographers do a fantastic job of keeping the film entertaining for much of the running time, filling the early parts with daring action sequences and gunplay. Jacky Wu once again shines as the bad guy, throwing out licks and kicks with equal precision, and makes you wonder why this guy hasn’t been given leading man status yet. He’s also grown as an actor, and the script by Chan and his co-writers gives Wu plenty of opportunity to flex his improved acting chops.
The film doesn’t do everything well, of course. There are a couple of whoppers for plot contrivances that requires the characters to do the most bone-headed things in order to get them to a specific location and to further the film’s plot. At this point, an already outlandish action movie becomes comically absurd, as the characters are placed in some overtly silly situations, all in the service of leading up to an outrageous action sequence that the filmmakers have thought up overnight. Two of the cops end up handcuffed to one another and strapped with explosives, while a third is left behind in a bus full of kids and, yes, more explosives. It’s all very silly and clich’-ridden, but given the minimum effort put into justifying them, can’t really be taken too seriously.
To its credit, “Invisible Target” does attempt some new things that I hadn’t expected, like making all but one of the trio of good guys be, well, actual good guys. Shawn Yue’s cop is less concerned with catching the crooks for the sake of the law as he is with saving his tarnished reputation, while Nicholas Tse just wants to dish out some payback for the death of his fianc’e six months earlier. Their selfish motives make them very human, and are one of the reasons why they stand out, while poor Jaycee Chan is liable to make the audience cringe every time he delivers one of his do-gooder speeches. And yes, the audience will also probably cringe every time Chan attempts to emote. Like father, like son, alas.
The script throws a couple of curve balls to mixed things up, but anyone who has seen their share of caper movies can probably guess the film’s second half plot twists. Benny Chan doesn’t exactly do his script any favors by telegraphing the identity of the film’s head baddie, the one responsible for betraying Jacky Wu’s gang in the first place. Really, Mister Chan, could you hold that camera on that car a little bit longer, please? I don’t think the audience members with GEDs will get it. And seriously, guys, can four lightly armed criminals really attack a gargantuan police station full of cops? Apparently, yes, as the film’s much too drawn out final 30 minutes can attest.
The film’s highlight is actually its first hour, where its moments of character development and male bonding between the three leads make for some enjoyable viewing. There are also a couple of nicely placed comedic gags, such as good guy Jaycee Chan’s grandma, who thinks he’s gay, or a scene where the egotistical Shawn Yue is made to, literally, eat his bullets and then, later, recover them for evidence. The second half, for all its wild action and exploding buildings and shattering glasses (my God do glasses shatter a lot in this movie!), tends to get weighted down by too much stabs at villainy pathos, much of it coming out of left field and reeking of last-minute additions. Can that conversation between Jaycee Chan and Andy On, in the middle of a burning garage, possibly drag on for any longer?
In my review of “Flash Point”, I called it one of the new breed of Hong Kong actioners — gritty, fast, and finely executed, a film that came, saw, conquered, and left. “Invisible Target” is more of the old school, the kind that would fit in nicely with the John Woo actioners of the late ’80s and ’90s, with ludicrous action sequences designed to be cool first and foremost, and filled with cartoonish violence on a grand scale. As such, for those seeking impressive flying kicks, lightning fast fisticuffs, and outrageous stuntwork, “Invisible Target” delivers the goods and then some.
Benny Chan (director) / Benny Chan, Chi-man Ling, Melody Lui, Sze-lam Lui (screenplay)
CAST: Nicholas Tse … Chan Chun
Jaycee Chan … Wai King Ho
Shawn Yue … Carson Fong Yik Wei
Jacky Wu … Tien Yeng Seng
Andy On … Tien Yeng Yee
Candy Liu … Ho Ka Yee
Elanne Kwong … Leung Hoi Lam
Sam Lee … Ho Wing Keung