“The New Option” is more police drama than an action movie. If one were to excise the film’s only gunbattle, which closes out the movie, the film would be devoid of any gunplay. And besides the matriculating of new recruits to join the elite SDU unit (the Hong Kong police’s version of SWAT), the rest of the film is taken up with the investigation of some young criminals who, as far as I can tell, the script never bothers to give names to. We know that two of the criminals are brothers, but who the criminals are, and why they’re even supposed to be the movie’s main villains, never becomes clear until the film’s only gunbattle.
And even then, once the gunpowder has cleared and all the bodies accounted for, confusion as to the villains’ identity, as well as their motives, or even their final goal, continue to reign. A second viewing of “The New Option” would certainly clear up some, if not all, of the confusion, but the movie is simply not good enough to sit through a second time just for clarity’s sake. Perhaps I’m absconding on my title as faux movie critic, but there’s simply not a lot about “The New Option” that could convince me to sit through it a second time.
Just as the bad guys are a muddled mess, so too is the film’s lead. You could say that Shawn Yue, as a young cop obsessed with joining the SDU, is the actual star; of course this doesn’t explain why we know next to nothing about him except his obsession. Perhaps Raymond Wong (“Colour of the Truth”), as Yue’s partner, is the star; then again, we know even less about Wong than we do about Yue, so maybe not. Then there’s Michael Wong (“Beast Cops”), who as far as I can tell has made a career out of playing characters that are either a part of SDU, used to be a part SDU, or are recruiting for SDU. Actually, the only character that gets any level of personality is Wong’s Stone. The point of all this is: You figure out who is the lead, because I have no clue.
Aside from its muddled plot, its mysterious bad guys, and equally mysterious good guys, “The New Option” actually has a decent core: the recruiting of younger cops to join the SDU. The script hammers the fact that Stone is the “old man” of the group, and how the elite unit is desperate for new blood. A particularly effective scene is one where the veteran SDU officers try to convince the new recruits that joining the squad is a good thing, with tangible benefits. The look on Stone’s face, and another veteran cop’s, is priceless. They wish they didn’t have to do this, but the thinning ranks force their hand.
Of course the film’s execution, with brief scenes of SDU-related training, seems perfunctory, lacking any real enthusiasm. The directorial chores is credited to Gordon Chan (“Fist of Legend”), but it’s hard to believe that Chan could have done anything on the movie besides sell his name to prolific producer Wong Jing. There are no Chan-inspired scenes here. Even the final gunbattle, involving the SDU and the mysterious bad guys in a massive housing complex, fails to elicit vibes that Chan showcased in “2000 A.D.”, the best Hong Kong shoot’em-up since John Woo bailed in favor of the States. It is also telling that during the opening credits I was hardpressed to find a name under the director’s title.
In a nutshell, “The New Option” seems like a half-hearted attempt to cash in on the SDU name brand. The film is by no means a “SWAT”, and we’re not just talking about budget or Hollywood gloss. There seems to be little focus to be found, with the narrative jumping off into odd tangents that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with anything, with new characters appearing and, for the moment they’re there, seems to have a significant impact — only to disappear completely. One gets the feeling that the script had large gaps that were filled in on the spot as production chugged along. And the fact that I was hardpressed to find a name under the writer’s title is yet another telltale.
Which doesn’t mean “New Option” is a terrible movie. It’s just not terribly inventive, or has real flair, or is anything to get over excited about. It’s an average movie, with some okay performances from its two young leads and Michael Wong as the “old guy”, although of course he doesn’t really look that old. The whole villain plot is a total mystery, and it’s just as well. There’s not a whole lot about “New Option” that deserves more than a cursory examination. The movie is not bad enough to be completely bad, but not good enough to be reasonably good. And if that last statement makes any sense to you at all, then consider this: It’s not half as befuddling as what passes for “story” in “New Option”.
Gordon Chan (director)
CAST: Michael Wong …. Stone
Shawn Yue …. Jackie Law
Patrick Tam …. Huang
Raymond Wong …. Hon Kin