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Dearest Acolytes, I’ve been saying to for ages to anyone who would listen. Slowly, but surely we are coming to The Year of the Yen - Donnie Yen, that is.

The martial arts stalwart has been a star in Asia since the 1980’s lending his brilliance to films like the Once Upon a Time in China II, Butterfly & Sword, Iron Monkey and Wing Chun. Then along came his role as Sky, the first of Jet Li’s adversaries in the international blockbuster, Hero. That small, memorable role not only put Yen’s name above the title in Asia, but got him more notice in his 2nd home in the US. He had has his biggest post-Hero U.S. exposure in 2003’s Shanghai Knights. His all-too-brief spar with Jackie Chan is one of the few things to recommend the sequel. Focusing on his confirmed star power in China, Yen went on to star in the period epic Seven Swords, and then in the film that set a new marker in the evolution of the martial arts film, Sha Po Lang (-declawed, mismarketed and inanely renamed Kill Zone in the US by a company that has no idea what to do with the gem in their pockets). A furious mix of drama and heart-stopping action, Sha Po Lang let the world see what Donnie could do. Boston University’s Own Donnie Yen had taken his place as a bonafide action superstar in his country alongside Jackie and Jet.

I don’t know if you could tell, babies, but we are slightly pro-Yen.

Flash Point is Yen’s newest actioner and I’m thrilled that we are getting the film in theatres where it belongs. The quick lowdown is Yen plays Detective Sergeant Jun, a chop first, ask questions later cop who thinks nothing about breaking some limbs if it gets him his man. Jun has his sights set on the trio of brothers trying to make a name for themselves in the Triads. Fellow Detective Wilson infiltrates the gang and over time becomes a right hand to the leader, Tony. It is when Wilson’s double-agenting is exposed and the gang does all it can to kill Wilson and his pregnant girlfriend, that Jun forces a showdown with all three brothers.

Pretty standard HK cop-drama stuff, and perfectly fine all the same, but the difference in Flash Point boils down to one man - that would be Donnie Yen. Keep up, people! For those looking for Citizen Kane, may I direct you elsewhere? However, if you came to see superlative physical skill and some of the most exhilarating and beautifully choreographed mixed martial arts captured on film? Flash Point’s your huckleberry. There’s no dreamy Crouching Tiger or Hero-esque flying through the air and no lush cinematography of bamboo jungles or snow-covered mountainsides. Also, we won’t be seeing one fella chopping and kicking his way through a gang of thousands. What you’re going to see in Flash Point is down and dirty hand-to-hand combat; one fighter against another, usually in fairly snug surroundings, making the action more pressurised and intense. The camera angles are very well chosen to capture what the combatants are doing at a far enough distance where the audience can clearly see the beauty of the movements, but are tight enough so that when Tony, the gang leader slams the back of  Jun’s head upside down on a piece of concrete, you get the headache. That’s the key here, making the fighting great looking, fast and flashy, but never forgetting that it’s supposed to hurt. And sure, there are moments where you wonder if Donnie Yen is some kind of superhero continually being able to get up after being knocked down like in that head-cracking scene. And yes, he probably is a superhero, but all the same those moments aren’t ludicrous and can easily be chalked up the tenacity of his character and his will to finally put an end to the gang. Director Wilson Yip fetishises Yen’s signature move in the film - a leaping full-body takedown with Yen’s walnut-crushing thighs wrapped about the necks or torsos of his opponents. We get to see it from different angles and it really does look great and yet, I still don’t think I would try this at the Temple.

One of the finest scenes in the film is Jun trying to accost the most brutal of the triad brothers in a small cafť area. Jun makes short work of a rather large wooden table and kicks and punches out his rage when the brother uses a little girl as a human shield. The other even more breathtaking scene is the final showdown between Jun and Tony that takes place in a little concrete shack in the middle of nowhere. Neither one of these tough guys will back down with all the bad blood between them. Evenly matched for size and speed their battle becomes a test of endurance. This fight sequence ran longer than most you might see in a martial arts film and that was a wise choice. The back and forth between Jun and Tony gives us insight to the strong wills of both characters, each one is shown getting the best of the other. It was exhausting to watch and I could have happily sat for another half hour marveling at the beauty of the choreography and the 110% effort both actors gave this sequence.

To my surprise, Flash Point actually features other actors besides Donnie Yen. Louis Koo, who is another huge star on the HK scene, strikes a nice balance between being the film’s comic relief and also its resident endangered species as the extremely burnt-orange Wilson (- you’ll see). The gloriously tressed Fan Bing-Bing is adorable as Wilson’s spunky girlfriend; I wish she had more scenes. The standout in the cast is Collin Chou as the vicious, ambitious Triad gang leader, Tony. His implacable face gives nothing away; lips curled in a slight Mona Lisa smile means you’re never going to see what’s coming till he kicks you in the head with it. He has the flat, dead eyes of a shark and is nicely creepy. His fight with Donnie Yen is elevated to a masterpiece in part due to Chou’s being able to believably match Yen’s moves and fury.

Kids, I implore you to catch this one in theatres while you have the chance. The breathless, breakneck action of Flash Point can only truly be appreciated 40 feet high. So grab your popcorn and dig it!


~ The Lady Miz Diva/ Mighty Ganesha

March 12th, 2008





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