Option Zero (1997) Movie Review

I have to admit, Hong Kong really does cop movies well; they somehow manage to weave the personal lives of the cops seamlessly with the complications of being on the job. “Option Zero” is another movie by Dante Lam (“Hit Team”) that proves that the Chinese really know what they’re doing when they do cop movies that are just as much about the cop action as they are about the civilian aspect. Of course that doesn’t mean the movie is without silly movie coincidences, of which “Zero” has its share.

“Option Zero” stars Julian Cheung as Ben, a member of an elite police squad called the S.B., who are known for doing whatever it takes to get the job done, including breaking the law. (If I were you I wouldn’t bother trying to remember all the Hong Kong cop movie acronyms like S.B., S.D.U, or the recent P.T.U; the fact is, Hong Kong cop movies go through departmental acronyms like they were candy.) While Ben and his squad, led by the veteran Sing (Anthony Wong, “The Mission”) are busy chasing a South Korean killer looking to buy a cache of weapons, Ben has his hands full with girlfriend Kelly (Carman Lee).

If you were to go by the number of minutes director Dante Lam and screenwriter Hing-Ka Chan (“A Better Tomorrow”) devotes to the personal lives of the cops and the minutes devoted to their ongoing case, then you would say “Option Zero” is more drama than cop thriller. The problem is that young Ben doesn’t quite know how to handle his girlfriend moving into his apartment when he’s at work. Not helping matters is Sing and another veteran cop giving Ben conflicting advices, especially considering that their own personal lives don’t seem to be going so great (and in fact, one of their significant other is cheating on them).

“Option Zero” closes things off with a bloody shootout that proves that no one does raw, visceral gunplay better than Hong Kong. The rest of the film has pockets of action, including another vicious gunfight around the hour mark where, shockingly, one of the cops gets killed by way of a shotgun blast at point blank range. It’s here that the movie does something very weird and introduces another police unit, the “G4” of the Hong Kong title, where the surviving members of the S.B. are sent for what amounts to a one-day crash course. I have no idea what the point of this sequence is other than to provide an explanation for the rest of the S.B. to be involved in the film’s final climactic action sequence.

As the young cop, Julian Cheung is a talented enough actor to have us in his corner even as he’s pushing Kelly away with his emotional unavailability. Carman Lee, as Ben’s somewhat hapless girlfriend Kelly, sometimes stretches credulity with perhaps too much pouting and childish behavior in place of actual acting, which is pretty much what she did in “Lifeline”. Not surprisingly, Kelly and another character name Amy provide the movie with its only comedic moments. As the only female member of the S.B. unit, Monica Chan (“Double Tap”) does a very good job of portraying the tough female cop carrying a secret torch for one of her co-workers.

With the film being made in 1997, “Option Zero” probably felt more than a little obligated to take a stab at the real-life Hong Kong changeover to Communist China. The movie does this by way of different characters contemplating moves to England before the historical 1997 event. Although I would have liked to see more of how the upcoming changeover is affecting the police force besides scenes of British officers shredding documents. I got the sense that the filmmakers wanted to do more with the subject, but for whatever reason they just didn’t have their heart in it, and as a result the many 1997 changeover subplots seem rather unnecessary.

“Option Zero” is a good film with some odd additions. The G4 sequence, with what amounts to a cameo appearance by Michael Wong (“Beast Cops”) as the dubiously named “G4 Trainer”, seems completely superfluous, since other explanations could be offered for why Ben and the other S.B. cops are present at the final action sequence. Despite its many missteps, “Zero” has enough going for it to be highly recommended.

Dante Lam (director) / Hing-Ka Chan (screenplay)
CAST: Monica Chan …. Monica
Farini Cheung …. Grace
Julian Cheung …. Ben
Sai Lan …. Nancy
Carman Lee …. Kelly
Anthony Wong …. Sing
Michael Wong …. G4 Trainer

Buy Option Zero on DVD