Airing in 2007, the 37 episode TVB cop show The Ultimate Crime Fighter could also be called The Ultimate Kenny G Fan, Stuffy Cop Tries To Keep His Sweet, Geeky, Buck-Toothed Girlfriend because really there is far more of that than actual crime fighting.
Things start off promising enough. You have the great Yuen Biao (Prodigal Son, Dreadnaught, Dragons Forever, Peacock King) as Fo Sung, a former cop who became a monk, ditched the force and his family after shooting a kid. He comes back to HK and reunites with his old friend, noodle shop proprietor and apartment renter Wong Bo, played by another martial great Leung Kar Yan (Sleeping Fist, Legend of a Fighter). Fo Sung gets tangled with the police and becomes involved in a strange case where young men are seemingly becoming possessed, burning hot, imbued with super strength, freaking out on rampages before committing suicide.
Oh, and did I mention that during his time away from the force Fo Sung developed not only martial arts skills but precognitive psychic abilities? Anyway, Fo Sung moves into one of Wong Bo's apartments and shares the digs with gigolo Chun Lung (Moses Chan), who is actually an undercover police officer involved in a sting. Chun Lung has infiltrated the organization of a Thai crimelord and his investigation eventually connects the villain to a cult. Naturally, the cult is involved in the whole possession business and Fo Sung and Chun Lung's paths cross in more ways than being roommates.
Now, that whole plotline, the undercover business, the freaky cult, guys having bad CGI acid trips, is just the first four episodes. Episode four is a whirlwind to resolve this first story, with the usual face offs, and the series looks to be pretty promising. Sure, its pretty cheap and sometimes padded with rudimentary character interplay, but Chung Lung as a more traditional cop and Fo Sung as the mellow monk ass kicker under the fantasy-meets-cop show genre umbrella makes for some fun. Then episode's five and six made me want to tear off my head, bury it in the ground, and salt the Earth.
I should have seen it coming. Wong Bo is pretty much a comedic relief character, the eccentric, frugal buddy. And, bad enough that "Beardy" Kar Yan's action talents aren't being used but Wong Bo's daughter, Ching (Gigi Lai), is also a comedic relief character. She's a mousy, glasses wearing, lisping, caricatured dork. The show spends a lot of time with their antics and when they are onscreen all of the cop, crime, fantasy, and martial elements of the show fall away and it becomes a goofball drama. For instance, episode five mostly consists of Chung Lung and Ching shopping for paint to repaint his former apartment. It is supposed to be cute and funny because Ching is getting used to Chung Lung as a cop and not the fey, sleazeball undercover persona she knew. Episode six has more of the same, Ching and Chung Lung crossing paths again at a bar, leading to a 3's Company scenario with Chung Lung taking her home so Ching can win a bet about going home with a guy and later Chung Lung hides her on his balcony while he hits on an old crush.
Episode seven seems intent on getting things rolling again. Chung Lung is promoted and given a vice team to command. Fo Sung gets a job as a bodyguard for Wong Bo's cousin and her son. She needs the protection because bad guys are trying to kidnap their son because her missing rich husband owes some debts. The bodyguard plotline ends up not really going anywhere, at least not actionwise, and serves purely to melodrama side when she reappears penniless in episode fourteen, goes to work for Wong Bo, and becomes Fo Sung's love interest. By this point, I gave up hope for this as an action show. A good 90% of the running time was clearly spent on the drama/comedy side, most if it Ching and Chung Lung's awkward stumbles towards romance. It takes until the end of episode nine to get another half-decent action plot thread going, this one a cracker involving a black clad, seemingly supernatural assassin that is killing off the elders of rival Wing Chun Sects (chief suspect being another martial veteran, the one, the only, master killer Gordon Lui).
Though the storytelling is simple, The Ultimate Crime Fighter is quite dense. It is in no way episodic, most of the shows continue directly where the last one left off, and pretty much every character is always related to another character in some way (Ching gets a job with a doll company, episodes later we find out Chung Lung went to school with her boss, etc). It is an ensemble. Fo Sung and Chung Lung are the semi-leads but equal, if not more, running time is devoted to the other characters, including one I haven't mentioned Madam Keung, friends with Chung Lung, a police inspector then turned prosecutor, who gets involved with an amoral lawyer who seems to represent someone in every case Fo Sung and Chung Lung work on in the final half of the series. Again, like I said, its that kind of show, where everyone is predictably and clumsily related to someone else.
I was going to go over the whole series and each little storyline but, honestly, it is so packed with characters and their intertwined subplot tangents, I would just end up long-winded and probably confusing without some kind of character diagram. Plus, the final stretch of episodes smack you with a major character death (possibly the only thing surprising and bold in the shows scripting) and it effects the rest of the series, so I cannot give a real summary without being mean and spoilery. Suffice to say, Fo Sung becomes a cop again, works with Chung Lungs team, finds a girl who could be his wayward daughter, Ching and Chung Lung become a couple and are distracted by work and potential lovers, etc, etc, etc.
Really, all viewers need to know and need to be prepared for is that the crime, action, and fantasy elements are barely even secondary to the drama, comedy, and character stuff. If you boiled the show down to the action and crime elements, it would be about eight to ten episodes. It really makes me wonder why they bothered making it a crime show at all. Even something like Fo Sung's psychic abilities is so underutilized you wonder why the writers injected it as one of his character traits. I guess HK viewers have that kind of patience and tolerance with their tv shows, but, me, I could barely take it. I cannot even call it a hybrid, multi-genre show because episodes go by with little to no action and you can be sure when they do throw a cool action sequence at you, there is going to be a long, possibly four or five episode stretch before you get a taste of another. Instead, you are more likely to spend an episode with Ching shopping for a watch for Chung Lung, or getting a job at a doll company lead by two feuding brothers and a too cool for school staff that works against her. It's relationship shenanigans over the busting of heads, less Walker Texas Ranger and more Days of Our Lives.
The DVD: Tai Seng.
Picture: The Ultimate Crime Fighter is presented in standard fullscreen. Those familiar with HK tv will get the expected lower rung but acceptable quality. HK is still using video based production, workmanlike but rough. As such, you get the usual source quirks and transferwise, with 37 eps across five discs, said video has some pretty bad compression and macro-blocking artefacts.
Sound: The series is presented with two 2.0 Stereo tracks, one in original Cantonese, the other a Mandarin dub. For the most part the audio is okay, on the cheaper end, but this is expected considering the source. Viewers should note that the levels, of the show and DVD menu, are very loud. The subtitle translation has some mistakes. I'm actually a tad more forgiving considering the sheer volume of what had to be translated. So you'll find a "maybe" becoming "may be" and by the final episodes the weary translator got lazy and made "two" become "2."
Extras: Nothin', though I will say that the packaging, a thick cardboard book sleeve with metallic hinge that houses the DVD case, is quite solid and attractive.
Conclusion: This show really fell short of my expectations. I thought I was getting into a slightly fantasy based crime show starring one of my favorite martial artists and instead got very little of that and loads of saccharine soap opera drama and silly comedy as the series sticking points. As a result, I positively hated slogging through this review because it was just not my kind of show. All of this could have been avoided had the actual preview trailers an synopsis accurately sold the show as a relationship drama, but of course, the previews played up the action.
The DVD presentation is fine but I must strongly recommend that viewers rent or preview the episodes in some way first. That really goes without saying in most cases of plopping down $60 bucks for a series of 37 45min episodes, but is especially relevant with The Ultimate Crime Fighter because most martial, crime, and action fans will not going to find enough of those winning elements within this series.