Directed by Benny Chan, who co-wrote the film with Tsang Kan-cheung, 2010's City Under Siege follows a young man named Sunny (Aaron Kwok) whose deceased father was an expert knife thrower. After his father passed away, Sunny goes to live with his uncle who teaches him the finer points of the art of clowning, a far step from his father's knack for knife throwing. If losing his dad wasn't enough, poor Sunny is also the subject of ridicule from his cousins, each one a member of their father's clown troupe - but Sunny is bound and determined to carry on his dad's legacy and hone his skills with a blade.
One fine day, Sunny overhears his cousins discuss their intentions of exploring a cave that they suspect contains some treasure. He winds up tagging along and once they find some aged crates, Sunny's the one who gets to open them. Sure enough, they find some gold but as it turns out, these crates also contains a canister of gas. See, this cave was once a Japanese biological weapons testing facility, used during the Second World War and there are some remnants from the past sort of hanging around still. When they inadvertently open the canister, they flee, but not before some of them inhale the gas. Sunny soon falls ill when he winds up on a ship heading to Hong Kong, and is tossed into the ocean left for dead. Of course, he's not and he swims his way to shore where he meets sexy reporter named Angel (Shu Qi). While all of this is going on, Sunny's cousins (lead by Collin Chou) start mutating into muscle-bound monsters, their minds deteriorating as fast as their bodies are changing. They somehow manage to track down the man who invented the gas that seems to have caused these changes and they kidnap him hoping he'll have a cure of some sort. Sunny, too, seems to be undergoing some changes but his are more subtle - his hearing and eyesight improve and he seems stronger than before. It's a good thing too, because when his cousins start tearing up the city, he'll have to team up with two martial arts experts - Suan (Wu Jing) and Hua (Zhang Jingchu) - to stop them.
City Under Siege seems to be a film far more concerned with looking cool and throwing in as much style as it can, with little regard to actual substance. As such, it's not deep - but it definitely moves at a fast pace and keeps the action ratcheted up pretty much all the way through the film to the inevitable big finish and because of this, it's never boring. It would have been a far more successful picture had it given us more character development and maybe something a little more humanized and realistic that we could relate to, but that didn't happen. Chan's film does, however, make lots of noise and it's entertaining enough on a completely superficial level to watch it do just that, even if there are plot holes here big enough to drive a truck through.
As far as the performances go, Collin Chou chews through the scenery like he hasn't eaten in weeks, but he does it well and his performance is fun. Aaron Kwok's work here is a little more subtle, but only a little - his character isn't quite as intensely insane as Chou's is. Both hold their own during the action sequences and spend a lot of time looking flashy and handsome and as cool as cool can possibly be. In fact, there's a lot of emphasis on cool throughout the movie, more so than on narrative structure or good storytelling, of which there is very little here. The movie looks good though, despite the fact that so many of the effects are done entirely with computers and rather obviously so. The cinematography is slick, the effects bombastic and over the top, and hey, the camera sure does love Shu Qi, doesn't it? The film doesn't quite seem to know what audience it's catering too, however. It's not hard enough in the violence department nor is it mature enough in the storytelling department to work as any sort of serious superhero movie, but it's probably a bit more violent than it should be to cater to the kids out there who would otherwise probably have some fun with this one. The romantic subplot seems to be thrown in just to cater to pre-teen girls while the melodramatic flashbacks, obviously there to tug at our heart strings, conflict with the rest of the film in terms of tone and visuals - but the movie just flat out screwy enough that it's worth watching if you're in the mood for something big, loud and dumb.
The AVC encoded 2.35.1 widescreen 1080p high definition transfer for City Under Siege is a good one, even if it isn't a flawless one. Detail is generally quite strong throughout as is texture but some minor edge enhancement and ringing can be spotted without too much effort if you're susceptible to such things. Colors are rendered nicely and look lifelike and accurate so long as you take into account that the film has been shot with a dark look to it. Black levels aren't always perfect even if they're usually close. The transfer shows some minor grain here and there but no actual print damage of any concern
Audio options are handled by your choice of a Cantonese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix or an English dubbed Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix with subtitles provided in English only. The Cantonese track is the way to go unless you have an aversion to subtitles for whatever reason as it's the original track and it suits the movie much better but both mixes sound very good. There's a lot of surround activity throughout the film and while most of it comes from the front of the mix, rears are used to fill in the action scenes nicely. Bass response is good, there are no problems with any hiss or distortion and the levels are always properly balanced. All in all, things sound very good here.
Input from director Benny Chan as well as a few cast and crew members make this twenty-three minute featurette worth sitting through. Some decent footage shot on set during the production is also include here, thought sometimes without as much context as maybe it could have had. This is a reasonably well put together and informative piece, however, and it gives us a look at what was done to get this feature finished.
Rounding out the extras are a trailer for the feature, trailers for a few other Funimation releases, menus and chapter stops. As this is a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, a second disc is included which presents the same extras and the movie in standard definition.
Bafflingly bizarre and completely over the top, City Under Siege is... wacky. And not always good wacky, either. It's pretty entertaining in its own strange way but it really is a huge exercise in style over substance and posing over acting - but if you're willing to turn your brain off and go along for the ride you can have a lot of fun with it. Funimation's Blu-ray looks good and sounds even better but it's light on supplements. Diehard HK film nuts can probably safely invest, the curious are more likely better served with a rental first as it might not be something that the average movie fan finds a lot of replay value in.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.