J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Special ID: Donnie Yen Gets Tattooed

If Chen Zilong is ever going to return to regular Hong Kong police force, he will have to fix those gangster tattoos. For the time being, they are part of his undercover guise, as ruthless enforcer Dragon Chen. However, it will become increasingly difficult to maintain his cover amid an ensuing power struggle in Clarence Fok Yiu-leung’s Special ID (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Chen’s English is iffy, but his martial arts skills are top-notch. Despite his clandestine mission, Chen loyally defends his juniors-in-crime during the film’s getting-to-know-you dust-up. After the restaurant melee, Chen starts to seriously doubt his position with the big boss. He also hears reports his former protégé Lo Chi-wai is up to no good on the Mainland.   Following his trail to Nanhai, Chen teams up with local detective Fang Jing, who takes issue with his cowboy style. She might be a stickler for regs, but the former Olympic marksman can shoot and fight.

Right so, Donnie Yen stars as Chen and serves as the primary action director.  Any questions? Granted, the interpersonal drama is kind of awkward to watch, but the fight choreography is dazzlingly cinematic, yet gritty and in-your-face personal. The film’s real bonus is Jing Tian, who shows spectacular action chops as Fang Jing. In fact, she takes the honors in the film’s best fight sequence, set entirely inside a speeding car—one of the best close quarters throw-downs perhaps ever. She also has considerable charisma, rolling with Yen’s goofball charm as well as can be expected.

The significance of the unruly HK cop and the by-the-book Mainlander sounds pretty blatant, but Fok never overplays the ideological implications of their Odd Couple partnership. Frankly, the narrative-by-committee is about as stripped down and functional as it can get, despite contributions from recently deceased screenwriter Szeto Kam-yuen (who penned Yen’s SPL and the moody Louis Ko noir, Accident).

Still, if you believe fight choreography is an art form, Special ID will only strengthen your conviction. Fifty year-old Yen proves he still has his mojo and Jing should become everyone’s new movie crush. Just like Shu Qi in Journey to the West, she proves Chinese language actresses often get to do cooler stuff than their American counterparts. Recommended for fans of martial arts and gangster movies, Special ID opens this Friday (3/7) in New York at the Village East.

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