I guess you really couldn’t say that Hong Kong filmmakers are trying to capitalize on the success of “Charlie’s Angels”, since I can think back to the early ’90s when “The Heroic Trio” made a splash. So just who is copying whom here? Regardless, “Angels” has helped to lend credibility to the notion of females who kick ass and still remain feminine at the same time. Hong Kong has already brought out “Naked Weapon” in 2002, and now we have Corey Yuen’s “So Close”, released in the same year. All of these movies fall into a subgenre I call Chicks Kick Ass.
The one formula that all Chicks Kick Ass movies have in common is the presence of three women (3 seems to be the magic number here), and everything else is left up to the imagination of the writer. In this case, writer Jeff Lau has teamed up Qi Shu (“The Transporter”) and Vicki Zhao (“Duel”) as sisters Lynn and Sue (respectively), two normal enough sisters who care for each other because they’re all the other have. Oh, and they also happen to be hired assassins. Karen Mok (“Shaolin Soccer”) makes up the third point of the chick trio, playing hardnosed cop Hong, who essentially assigns herself the task of bringing the sisters in.
The rest of the movie is standard Hitmen Movie stuff. Like all Hong Kong hitmen (or in this case, hitwomen), Lynn and Sue should have realized that they couldn’t trust the people who hired them. After the sisters have successfully killed their target, the person who hired them (who happens to be close to the target) decides it’s time to clean house. Along the way, cop Hong learns to admire the girls, and eventually becomes their ally against the real enemy. (The lesson here, kids, is never trust anyone who hires you to kill someone else.)
I am of course oversimplifying much of “So Close.” The movie was advertised as a stylish action film, and although the promise pays off in a big way, Jeff Lau’s screenplay is surprisingly very effective. Sisters Lynn and Sue have personalities, history, and a life. Sue is the younger sister, and seems permanently on the precipice of adulthood; Lynn, on the other hand, cares for Sue as a mother more than a sister. When life and a second chance at romance come Lynn’s way, the older sister decides to quit the killing business. It’s a decision that Sue, despite misgivings, accepts. Or does she?
Without spoiling any big plot points (there is a big one toward the halfway mark), the women eventually team up for a final, bloody battle against the villain and his small personal army. And this is where “So Close” is weakest. It’s no surprise for anyone familiar with Hong Kong cinema to see villains pop up halfway through the film; 5 out of every 10 Hong Kong movies I’ve seen never even bothers to introduce their main villain (the guy our hero will have to duke it out with in the end) until the halfway mark. While “So Close” doesn’t waste as much time introducing its lead villain, the guy is just not, well, all that villainous. (And in fact, he’s dispatched by our leads quite easily in the end.)
But you didn’t come into “So Close” to be entertained by its well-realized villain. The star of “So Close” is its three attractive leads and their martial prowess. While all 3 do have multiple chances to show off, it’s a mano-a-mano fight between Qi Shu and Karen Mok in a parking garage that is the standout scene. Heavily fueled by a string of camera tricks and wirework, the two women climb walls, flick guns around, and generally wow with one incredible move after another. In comparison, the final gunbattle at the villain’s building seems to go on forever. How is it possible that with all the blood and bullets of the closing battle sequence, it doesn’t even rate half as entertaining as the bloodless hand-to-hand between Mok and Shu?
If action is the star of “So Close”, then the flesh-and-blood star has to be director Corey Yuen. Last responsible for the action sequences in “The Transporter”, Yuen is in his element here and has full creative control, and it shows. The movie rocks and rolls on all cylinders, and is greatly assisted by a nice, mature performance by its lead Qi Shu. Shu, incidentally, did not impress me very much (not at all, actually) when I first saw her in one of the “Young and Dangerous” movies. It’s incredible how fast she’s grown as an actress; so much so that I now look forward to her future works.
It is interesting to note that my copy of “So Close” opens with the Columbia Pictures logo, which leaves me to conclude that American audiences might get a taste of “So Close” very soon. With the impending release of “Charlie’s Angels 2″, it would be intriguing to see how American audiences will respond to a Chicks Kick Ass film that really kicks ass, rather than just go through the motions of kicking ass. (Sorry, Angels, but the truth is the truth.)
Corey Yuen (director) / Jeff Lau (screenplay)
CAST: Qi Shu …. Lynn
Vicki Zhao …. Sue
Karen Mok …. Hong Yat Hong
Seung-heon Song …. Yan
Michael Wei …. Mark