Special ID is the victim of a number of things, some to do with the making of the film, some to do with the execution of the film, and some to do with the localization of the film for American audiences. The movie was meant to be a team-up between Yen and popular rising martial artist Wenzhuo Zhao, but Zhao publicly protested the quality of the script, frequent on-set rewrites, and the talent of the crew, resulting in his eventual departure from the project. Yen recruited some friendly faces, including On, to help him finish the film, but it seems likely that the tumultuous production had an effect on the film's disjointed, sloppy narrative. To his credit, Yen seems engaged, but the film lets him down in other areas, too.
One of the elements that I often suspect is lost in translation with some of these cop films (seemingly Asia's favorite film genre) is what the hook is meant to be, or if there even is one, as well as the film's intended tone. Story-wise, there's nothing going on in Special ID that's, well, special; it's the standard undercover cop story. On top of that, the screenwriters have also welded a mismatched partners subplot, in Chen's need to work with newbie and Hello Kitty fan Fang Jing (Tian Jing). The film lazily wavers between drama and comedy without favoring either one, and it's hard to get a bead on what the intended tone of a given scene is. One of the few that does work only complicates the mixture further with a note of playful romance, a scene where Fang and Chen fight over an air gun on the roof of the police station.
One other possibility is that some of the details have literally been lost in translation. It's rare these days that I question the effectiveness of an English subtitle track, but I noticed at least a few quirks that left me wondering if some of the richness of Chen and Sunny's relationship or the current situation were being lost. The film is titled Special ID, in reference to (as far as I can tell) the classification of Chen as an undercover officer, but instead of "identification", the subtitle track always uses "identity", which makes it seem like Chen is having more of an existential crisis (I suppose that could theoretically be intentional). Later, an important video is put on a loop, and the translation of one of the lines is slightly different the first time than it is on subsequent loops. None of this is particularly egregious, but it's more than enough to think that some of the nuances or details that would make the dialogue crackle are being eroded for English-speaking audiences.
That pretty much leaves the action, which starts out underwhelming and thankfully improves. During the first couple of brawls, including one in a mahjong parlor and another in the kitchen area of a restaurant, there's some sort of discord between the choreography and the final product. While director Clarence Fok Yiu-leung shoots for clarity, marking himself as one of the few directors who actually manages to avoid quick-cut or too much shaky cam, Yen's blows lack power, possibly because of the bland and forgettable music. Luckily, Fok comes back swinging in the film's final 20 minutes, with a spectacularly-staged car chase that makes great use of practical rigs and street shooting rather than greenscreen, and an extended fight sequence between Yen and On that almost makes up for the 75 minutes leading up to it. Hardcore Donnie Yen fans may enjoy Special ID, but it's a messy film, one that seems to have survived production rather than completed it.
The Video and Audio
An original trailer for Special ID is also included.