J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Black & White: Dawn of Assault, the Taiwanese Buddy Cop Prequel

Harbour City looks Taiwan’s Kaohsiung City, but its governance probably more closely resembles Singapore. Maverickery is not encouraged, especially amongst the police, so it is not surprising “Hero” Wu has been suspended. Of course, that means he is about to stumble across a massive terrorist plot with only a miserable gangster for back-up in Black & White: Dawn of Assault (trailer here), Tsai Yueh-hsun’s big screen prequel to the eponymous 2009 Taiwanese TV series, which releases today on DVD and BluRay from Shout Factory.

Wu might be suspended, but he still can sense when things are not on the up and up. In contrast, lower mid-level Triad Xu Ta-fu has the intuition of burnt toast. When his boss entrusts him for a week with a suitcase full of cash, Xu tries to make a quick score flipping some smuggled diamonds. Unfortunately, his deal goes up in smoke when heavily armed paramilitaries crash the exchange. He survives only due to Wu’s chance intervention. However, the lone wolf cop soon realizes the national SIS (SWAT) team are part of the conspiracy.

It turns out Xu was not merely trafficking in diamonds. The now missing briefcase also contains information necessary for constructing an anti-matter bomb (seriously). Fortunately, computer genius Fan Ning can explain to them the dangerous implications of the weapon devised by her father’s recently deceased protégé.

It is a minor miracle if the paragraph above makes any sense at all. Narrative logic is not B&W’s strength but thanks to Tsai’s breakneck pacing, one hardly notices how preposterous it all is while you are on the ride. Shrewdly, he does not allow his cast a lot of time to chill out and talk. This also limits the opportunities for schtick from Huang Bo, the Mainland star of the Lost in franchise. In fact, he gets downright medieval facing off against Tung, the Triad’s designated psycho killer.

Mark Chao has done some nicely understated work in the past, particularly in Chen Kaige’s Caught in the Web, but he only uses his action chops in B&W, which are pretty convincing. Unfortunately, Angelababy, who was so awesome in Tai Chi Zero, is ridiculously under-employed as Fan Ning, who is too often stuck saying things like “let me email my friends at MIT for help with the decryption.” Terri Kwan has even less to do as the hostess Xu is besotted with, but the NYU grad and model-turned thesp still looks fantastically elegant. However, actor-director Leon Dai steps up and decisively chews the scenery as the shadowy underworld figure, Jabar.

There is one reason to watch B&W—for the action, but at one hundred forty-two minutes (the cut released in Mainland theaters), there is certainly plenty of it. Some of the third act revelations will even baffle fans of the original series (just who are the Pandawa nationalists again?), but there is plenty of hard-charging meathead fun to be had. Recommended for fans of the big name cast and Asian action movies in general, Black & White: the Dawn of Assault is now available on Blu-ray and DVD, from Shout Factory.

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