Undercover Punch and Gun


Philip Ng is feeling boxed in.

(2019) Crime (Well Go USA) Philip Ng, Vanness Wu, Andy On, Nicholas Tse, Joyce Wenjuan Feng, Luxia Jiang, Aka Chio, Shuai Chi, Jia Meng, Aaron Aziz, Suet Lam, Carrie Ng, Susan Yam-Yam Shaw. Directed by Koon-Nam Lui and Frankie Tam

 

One of the biggest criticisms of action movies in general is that they often seem to be little more than excuses to go from one big action set piece to another. Plot and character development often go by the wayside, leaving the audience to marvel at the stunts, special effects and so on. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – great action sequences can often be their own catharsis, but I also can’t blame critics who would like to see actioin movies be better. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to develop the plot a little more, or give the characters some depth besides a few cheeky one-liners spouted at the end of a particularly grueling fight scene.

Xiao Wu (P. Ng) is an enforcer for a drug ring but what he REALLY is, as it turns out, is an undercover cop. During a drug deal that goes south, gunfire erupts between rival gangs of cops and gangsters. During the chaos, the boss (Lam) is killed and Wu ends up in charge. He is tasked to take down Ha (On), a smuggler who not only imports drugs but dabbles in the human trafficking trade – about as much as Apple dabbles in computers. Ha is as ruthless as they come, and Wu along with his buddy Tiger (Wu) are definitely in over their heads.

The producers for the film apparently never heard the old aphorism “too many cooks spoil the broth.” There are no less than two directors and seven writers credited on this film, and it shows. There is an inconsistency in tone that is maddening as the movie goes from slam-bam action to slapstick comedy to dark social drama often within the same scene. I get that Asian cuisine often has a multitude of layered flavors, but that doesn’t always work for movies.

The characters don’t always act as you’d expect which can be refreshing so long as there’s a logic to it. When Wu’s girlfriend is kidnapped, one wonders about the girl; she isn’t in much of the movie until the end where she basically exists in order to be rescued. The saving grace here is that the action sequences, particularly the fights, are really, REALLY good. Ng, who doubled as fight choreographer, is a natural and could well be the next big international action star to come out of the Far East. He has a brooding presence, but doesn’t handle the comedy quite as well.

Then again, the comedy here is mainly of the low-brow variety and often brings the movie to a screeching halt. The comedy is largely centered around Tiger and while Asian audiences tend to appreciate a broader sense of humor than American audiences do, the jokes here are largely painfully unfunny, as when the baddie wips out his cell phone and tells the hero “There! I unfriended you!” Take that.

Sometimes the action sequences are all you really need to make a movie worthwhile, but the sometimes-painful comedy breaks really do bring the movie down overall. There is also a jazzy score that is wildly inappropriate for the film; the movie just isn’t noir enough for it. Action fans, particularly those who love the martial arts films of Asia, are going to flip for it. Also, keep an eye our for Ng – he could be a household name a few years from now.

REASONS TO SEE: There are some nifty action sequences.
REASONS TO AVOID: The wild shifts in tone (particularly the generally unsuccessful attempts at comedy) drag the film down overall.
FAMILY VALUES: There is quite a bit of martial arts violence, as well as some drug content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Originally released under the title Undercover vs. Undercover.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Hi-Yah, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/22/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Infernal Affairs
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Bullied

Brick Mansions


A pictorial representation of what is wrong with this movie.

A pictorial representation of what is wrong with this movie.

(2014) Action (Relativity) Paul Walker, David Belle, RZA, Gouchy Boy, Catalina Denis, Ayisha Issa, Carlo Rota, Andreas Apergis, Richard Zeman, Robert Maillet, Bruce Ramsay, Frank Fontaine, Chimwemwe Dave Miller, Bradshaw Anderson, Ryan Trudeau, Ron Lea, Danny Blanco Hall, Bruce Dinsmore, Carolina Barczak, Kalinka Petrie. Directed by Camille Delamarre

When Paul Walker passed away in November of last year, he had two films in the can and was in the midst of filming the seventh installment of the popular Fast and Furious series. He had a reputation for being one of the nicest and most compassionate guys in Hollywood, but had never really been able to move past a certain kind of role, mainly in action films and thrillers, that he played throughout his career.

Which is a shame. I would have liked to have seen him grow as an actor and I have no doubt he had that capability within him, but we’ll never know for sure. That’s what makes watching this movie which even by the standards of some of the turkeys he did was pretty awful.

In 2018 Detroit, the ghetto of Brick Mansions – once a sought-after address in the city but now overrun by drugs, gangs, crime and poverty – has been walled off and all services, including schools, hospitals and police patrols, removed leaving the citizens of that zip code to rot and fend for themselves.

Drug lord Tremaine Alexander (RZA) rules over his kingdom with an iron fist, although there are some chinks in his armor. One big one is Lino (Belle), a French-Caribbean who is a master martial artist and parkour runner who takes issue with Tremaine’s policies. Recently he’s pilfered some 20 kilos of drugs and destroyed them, which makes Tremaine none too happy. He sends his number two man, called K2 (Boy) to kidnap Lino’s girlfriend Lola (Denis) and hold her hostage basically to bring Lino back to the Mansions after Lino was arrested by a corrupt cop.

Undercover detective Damien Collier (Walker) also has a bone to pick with Tremaine. Collier’s father was murdered in cold blood by the drug lord and Damien has dedicated his life to bringing the all-but-untouchable criminal to justice. Having just taken down George the Greek (Rota), one of Tremaine’s main suppliers, he is offered the opportunity by the mayor (Ramsay) to go in and do some real good.

Apparently some of Tremaine’s men had ambushed an armored car that was transporting a neutron bomb – the kind that kills people but leaves buildings intact – and the ignorant Tremaine had accidentally armed it. The clock is ticking and in order to find the bomb and punch in the code to neutralize it, Damien will need someone who is familiar with the Mansions. And Lino just happens to be available.

Of course, the two men have differing agendas – Lino is much more concerned with getting his girlfriend back – and neither one trusts each other but given the firepower at Tremaine’s disposal and the high stakes they’re playing for, they will have to figure out a way to become a team if they are to rescue the girl, neutralize the bomb and capture the bad guy.

Writer-producer Luc Besson adapted this from District B-13 which also starred Belle, who happens to be one of the originators of parkour and still one of the best practitioners of the discipline. When Belle is onscreen, it’s magic and for those who haven’t seen him in the Besson film (and its sequel) this is a nice introduction to some of the amazing stunts that he can do.

Sadly, nothing in the rest of the film really holds up. Walker is at least somewhat charismatic, although he is given a character who mostly reacts to Belle’s actions. This is the kind of role that is normally in Walker’s wheelhouse and I think that he’s given a pass here mostly because of the situation, but were he still alive I think that the critics would have been much harsher. More on that in a minute.

The rest of the cast ranges from mediocre to just plain godawful. The plot has holes in it you can drive a dump truck through and the filmmaker needlessly gives the ending away in the very first scene. I could go on, but it would just be flogging a dead horse.

The French original is really much better – a better story, better acting and it still has Belle in it. Sadly for Walker fans, neither he nor Belle can save this film which fails in so many unnecessary ways. Remaking a film from another country doesn’t mean you have to dumb it down for an American audience, although sometimes it might seem that way.

The real tragedy of Walker’s passing is the wasted potential. He was well on his way to being a possible A-lister; just a couple of roles that took him out of the usual ones he did would have done it. There are critics who said that Walker had limited range and limited potential but I disagree. Some of his work in earlier films were pretty memorable. Unfortunately, films like this may well be his legacy. He deserved better.

REASONS TO GO: Great parkour action.

REASONS TO STAY: A disappointing American remake of a much better French film. Outside of Walker and Belle, the cast is uniformly horrible.

FAMILY VALUES:  All sorts of violence, gunplay and action, a fair amount of salty language, some sexual menace and quite a bit of drug content.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In reality Belle speaks with a thick French accent and he isn’t fluent in English. To make it more believable that he had been a long time Detroit resident, all of his dialogue was dubbed by Vin Diesel.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/11/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 27% positive reviews. Metacritic: 40/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Raid: Redemption

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: The Other Woman