If by the end of this review I sound like a bit of a grumbler, please bear in mind it is not because the film wasn't entertaining. It is just that, as an action fan, I was disappointed. It is nothing new. I pretty much conceded long ago that the genre I so dearly love has disintegrated to the point that it's supposedly badass villains and heroes had become a baby-faced parade of actors with Kajagoogoo haircuts posturing while some ragged techno beat blares in the background. Oh well, at least Fatal Contact had a big, Ron Perlman looking, bruiser in an outfit that they must have smuggled off of a Joseph Lai production.
Jacky Wu, or Wu Jing, has garnered a lot of buzz as a rising martial star and a possible replacement for the last HK action hero with a bonafide martial background to rise to fame, a guy by the name of Jet Li. Of course, I remember hearing that buzz a decade ago when Jacky starred in Yuen Woo Ping's Tai Chi 2. Jacky's star went nowhere and, after a drought, he turned up in Drunken Monkey a few years later. I had to check the imdb to reveal I'd also seen him in Legend of Zu and SPL. I've still yet to watch, what I hear is pretty good, Benny Chan's Invisible Target where he is, as in the previous two films, part of a nice ensemble.
Fatal Contact (2006) finds Jacky again in a lead role built around strutting his martial stuff. This time he is under the direction of Dennis Law, who I'm absolutely unfamiliar with but has a few films under his belt and some clout as a producer.
The story is a pretty typical affair, not always a bad thing in a martial arts film. After all, its is all about the fights. More on that later. Kong (Jacky Wu Jing) is a wu shu champ scraping by as a Peking Opera performer. He is approached by some gangsters to rumble in underground fights but he refuses. After a date where his short funds cause him some embarrassment, along with some prodding from the girl in question, Tin (Miki Yeung), Kong decides to take them up on the offer. Guess, like most men, Kong's standards are only uncorruptable until his hormones start boiling.
Kong, Yin, and Captain (Ronald Cheung), Kong's underling gangster gopher/mentor, become a friendly trio as Kong moves up the ranks of the underground fight circuit. He becomes the chosen fighter for a young slickster, Fai. The stakes and fights become increasingly dangerous and Kong begins to lose himself in the brutality, subjugating his morals for money and the affections of Tin.
This film shows a perfect example of why Hong Kong isn't recapturing the magic of old when it comes to martial arts films. Sure, there was a seriously long drought from the mid 90's for about a decade and films like SPL and Flash Point have done a good job of getting die hard fans excited again. And, you know what? The action in Fatal Contact is pretty damn good. I still think the hope for a return of balls to the wall HK action is only a faint glimmer. Why? Because I wouldn't trade every single fight scene in the Fatal Contact for just one single fight/stunt scene from The Protector, or Angel Terminators, Righting Wrongs, the list goes on and on.
It is all a matter of choreography+risk. Jacky Wu certainly has the talent, that much is certain watching him on screen. His features are a tad soft but that never stopped Fu Sheng or Jackie Chan from outstanding careers. When you only have so much time, so much budget, and so much desire, you end up with Fatal Contact. Stuntwise, the risk appears minimal and there isn't the sense of physicality in danger (faux or real, doesn't matter as long as you convincingly sell it) displayed in HK films of the 80's. The choreography, while good, is fairly brief and lacks the elaboration of old school kung fu classics from the 70's or the wire fu, undercranked wonkiness of the new wave. So, what you get is a decent action film but nothing that will keep audiences (well, at least audiences who are well versed on martial action) on the edge of their seat and clamoring for the next Jacky Wu or Dennis Law vehicle.
The writing has its highs and lows. Though it sometimes crosses into cheese and overstates its comic goofiness, the comradrerie between Kong, Tin, and Captain is convincing. The lineup of combatants is quite good, including inspired touches like one opponent who puts nails into his gloves and shoes. Some of the character sketching is a tad muddled, particularly Kong's naivete and easily discarded principles. The scripters do earn points for winkingly remarking on Jacky Wu Jing's likable appearance and flashy moves not being convincing stuff for a true ass kicker. The film is packed with cameos but they are mostly negligible roles: Andy On as a punching bag, Lam Suet as the fat gangster glowering in the background, and so forth. Though it was short on a big final fight, the ending is a surprise and takes a drastic turn that I appreciated purely for its extreme nature.
I suspect most viewers will be disinterested in the commercial pandering to the girlie crowd. Sorry ladies, as a rule romance and soft moments combined with bruising action doesn't mix. Though I wish it wasn't, it is generally true and remains a steadfast rule, and I say that as a fan of Gorgeous and Heart of a Dragon. Fatal Contact has many dead moments focusing on Tin and her friend's (though again, it is a muddled plot point about how well they actually know each other) rocky relationship as well as a wistful Cantopop ballad injected into the proceedings. Guys will likely be groaning, waiting for the next bit of action. Women, on the other hand, wont digest the patently false, half-heartedly executed characterization and will end up just waiting for the end credits.
The DVD: Dragon Dynasty/Weinstein Co.
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. Technically the disc appears quite sound, no glaring aliasing, artifacts, ghosting, etc. In terms of the print, there were many instances where the image was less than eye-popping and a little bland. It is nothing I would consider a deal breaker, just a bit of heavy grain and some softness.
Sound: Cantonese DTS and 5.1 tracks, English 5.1 dub track, and optional English (including for the deaf or hearing impaired) or Spanish subtitles. The sound mix is a bit of a dud when it comes to the dialogue, but the guys at the mixing board obviously woke up when it came to the action and scoring which delivers decent amount of thudding bass response and crisp whacks.
I watched the film for roughly fifteen minutes with the dub. The performances seemed pretty middle of the road. In terms of translation it was a mixed bag with the subs seemingly coming from a more Chinese-slanted source. Captain's share of a fight purse is 12,500 in the subs and 50,000 in the dub. In a moment where Tin excuses herself, the subs opt for a more demure choice of going to the "restroom," whereas the dub uses "to pee."
Extras: The main disc has feature length commentary track by writer, producer, insider Bey Logan and director Dennis Law. Accounting for roughly 70% of the HK commentaries out there, Logan will be familiar to Stateside Asian film fans. Safe to say, the guy can talk. Informative, if a bit of a prattle, and while plenty of background info is provided it does degenerate into a lot of "so where was this filmed?"
A second disc houses: Original trailer. Interviews with Jacky Wu Jing (21:36), Dennis Law (27:09), Miki Yeung (14:32), and Theresa Fu, who is featured in the minor role of Tin's friend (10:05). A Featurette (31:33) shows Jacky training for the film, sparring with some kickboxers/kung fu artists and so forth. Interesting, but I found it a tad suspicious that he's the only guy in the gym training with shoes on and a casual hoodie, so I was leaning towards it being more the stuff of a promo stunt.
Conclusion: Fatal Contact features action that is frequent and exciting enough to make it worth a look for martial arts fans. For me, there just wasn't anything jaw dropping enough to warrant a repeat spin anytime soon or, the truest sign of martial film success, rushing to show it off to your kung fu loving friends followed by that post-viewing adrenaline rush that makes you want to playfully try no-shadow kicking your best bud across the room. Certainly those die hard fans willing to plunk out their cash will get a decent disc for their money, but, as an overall recommendation, I have to say the film is the stuff of a rental.