Between Stephen Chow, The Rooftop, and Badges of Fury, I'm starting to wonder if the Chinese have a thing for slapstick comedy I'm not aware of. Okay, sure, that's less than 15 films all told (not necessarily a trend), and Chow's style is uniquely his own, but I don't know how else to explain Badges of Fury, an aggressively "wacky" comedy martial arts picture about a young cop, his partner, and his superior officer, all of whom are desperately trying to capture a criminal before they all lose their jobs after a routine operation goes terribly wrong. The film's decent production value and the presence of a disinterested-looking Jet Li suggest that there was something appealing about the movie on paper, but the execution doesn't reveal what it is.
Zhang Wen plays Wang, a rookie cop with an itchy trigger finger. While posing undercover in a high-end nightclub, he spots a major criminal other than the one he, his partner Huang (Li), and his boss Angela (Michelle Chen) are there to bust, but his attempt to snag both criminals turns the whole op sour, leaving them with no arrests and a $1m damage bill. They're given one last chance to close a case, which turns out to be the mysterious "Smile Killer", who claimed three lives months earlier and may have just claimed a fourth, all of whom died with an eerie, inexplicable grin on their face. While Huang sits at his desk and watches his stock go up and down, Wang and Angela are out on the streets, investigating popular actress Liu Jinshui (Shishi Liu) and her bombshell sister Dai Yiyi (Yan Liu) and their connection to the victims.
Calling Badges of Fury a "cartoon" might leave room for interpretation, so let's be clear: this is a full-on "Looney Tunes" movie in which characters bounce up and down several stories in a single jump, a woman's attractiveness can stop time at will, and the filmmakers don't think twice about an extended Men in Black parody bit that grinds the movie to a halt. At the same time, director Tsz Ming Wong treats the silliness like a light switch, resulting in a film that will give the viewer tonal whiplash, suddenly jerking from pure absurdity to material the viewer is apparently meant to take sort of seriously. I could believe that the filmmakers feel broad physical comedy would translate better than dialogue gags (or that there were dialogue gags that didn't translate), but the film cries out for cohesiveness, such as some wordplay that would place the straight moments in the same picture as the goofiness without undercutting the "drama."
This disconnect is not only frustrating because this is a film that tries two things and fails at both, but also because the story could easily be the basis for an action comedy that works. Zhang's character Wang is a skilled martial artist, but also an excitable dope who constantly jumps the gun in trying to arrest criminals. A bizarre love triangle develops between himself, Angela, and Jinshui when he becomes engaged to the actress in an attempt to become the killer's next target, which could work in a film that played it up more. Instead, the film only offers fleeting glimpses of Zhang and Chen's comic chemistry (a scene where he tries to throw her up to the balcony of a victim's apartment is pretty good) in favor of too many serious scenes between Jinshui and Yiyi, which lack spark or wit.
Sadly, despite a hefty helping of action, Wong again struggles to find the right balance. The film uses extensive wirework, cutting the length of Wong's shots, and each intrusive edit in a stunt that should occur in a single shot is an impediment to both laughs and awe. The film's more successful action sequences (at an outdoor restaurant and inside a parking garage) lean mostly or all straight action, without the added distraction of trying to stage jokes. Both of those sequences are built around Zhang; sadly, I'm pretty certain that Li is frequently doubled during his action sequences. Wong consistently stages the star's fights with the back of his head to the camera, with what looks like a poor CG Li mask employed to cover a stuntman's face in the occasional slip and plenty of cutaways to Li to help sell the illusion. If the fights had successfully achieved the blend of thrills and gags that the movie aims for, the movie might earn a partial pass. Instead, Badges of Fury is a cultural curiosity for Li devotees only, in which the height of comedy is a throwaway meta reference to some of the actor's other pictures.
Other than the goofy title and the tone of the quote on the front of the packaging, there is zero hint on WellGo USA's artwork for Badges of Fury that the movie is a comedy, which seems like a great way to disappoint customers. Instead, a somber Li and Zhang stand in front of an explosion on a random city street, suggesting a straight thriller. Weird choice. The disc comes in an eco-friendly Vortex Blu-Ray case, with a glossy, partially embossed cardboard slipcover featuring identical artwork over it. There is no insert.
The Video and Audio
Badges of Fury is granted excellent 2.39:1 1080p AVC video and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio by WellGo USA. Aside from a couple of odd shots here and there that were filmed with a different camera or are lacking some sort of processing, the image here is crisp and deep, almost appearing 3D at times. I searched but could not find any instances of banding, nor artifacting or oversaturation. The sound design is robust and beefy, with each thwack and punch landing with a satisfying amount of oomph. The film is very active, and so is the soundtrack, which is packed with sound effects, music cues, and more to emphasize the comedy of the film. Directionality is excellent, and the mix itself has a satisfying amount of polish compared to quite a few movies being released in the United States. A DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English dub is also included, as well as both the Mandarin and English tracks in standard Dolby Digital 2.0, and English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
Two extras are included. A four-part making-of documentary (26:13, SD) is promotional in nature, and rife with clips, but also fairly comprehensive in terms of B-roll and interviews. Passably interesting, especially when documenting the fight scenes, but nothing essential. The other extra, titled behind-the-scenes (13:55, SD) also looks at the making of the film with approximately the same degree of success, but provides no real reason why it's split off from the other four featurettes.
A promo for WellGo USA and trailers for Special ID, The Wrath of Vajra, and On the Job play before the main menu. An original trailer for Badges of Fury is also included.
Don't let the action packaging or the presence of Jet Li fool you: this is not only a full-on comedy, but also a fairly unfunny one, not to mention one that Li completely sleepwalks through. The A/V quality of the disc is top-notch and there's around 40 minutes of extras, but the film is a mess. Skip it.
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