Sunday, December 19, 2010

Far East Specials: Invisible Target

Invisible Target (2007, Benny Chan)

There are ‘action films’ and then there are ‘action action films.’ It is a distinction that perhaps I alone make, but one that appears clear as daylight to me. An ‘action film’ serves up a solid dose of thrilling and impressive sequences in which the characters engage in intense brawls, gunfights, chases or jaw-dropping stunts, but which also have something resembling a script. Beneath the sweat and blood dripping from the abused bodies of the characters is a minimal amount of development of plot and emotional arcs. First Blood and The Bourne Identity are ‘action movies.’ ‘Action action movies’ are so concerned with the stunts, chases and gunfights, that by the film’s end, caring for the characters and, most of all, plot have taken a back seat. The Protector (reviewed here) and Invisible Target are ‘action action movies.’ Sometimes the unthinkable happens. Sometimes, you’ve had enough action.

 As Benny Chan’s invisible Target proposed yet more action scenes, as well as action scenes within action scenes, I grew somewhat weary. It was a shame that my interest waned the longer the movie lasted because during the first hour I was having a good enough time. By the climax, I wasn’t sure who had killed whose brother anymore or where the money the gangsters were after was being held. I’m sure it was mentioned, the filmmakers probably were not so careless as to not make such things clear, but the reason as to why I had forgotten (or didn’t understand) was because I didn’t care anymore. The story of Invisible Target follows a great many characters, but more specifically an officer names Wai King Ho (Jaycee Chan, son of legendary Jackie Chan), a detective named Chan Chun (Nicholas Tse) and an inspector named Carson Fong Yik Wei (Shawn Yue), who are brought together for slightly varying reasons to nab the same bad guy, Tien Yeng Seng (Wu Jing, who was also a villain in Wilson Yip’s Kill Zone). Tien is an acrobatic martial arts maestro (after all, who isn’t in these movies?), but as villainous and dangerous as they come. With his band of brothers, literally, he hunts down a police informant who had snitched on him and brothers a few months ago. The audience does not know who the police informant is until late in the film, but we are aware that this person is still part of the police organization. Chan Chun wants to avenge the death of his girlfriend who inadvertently died at the hands of Tien during a robbery, Wai King wants to avenge the death of his undercover cop brother, and inspector Carson Fong just want to toss the gang behind bars and throw away the key.

That is arguably one of the longer plot synopses I’ve written for a review and I honestly tried to be as succinct as I could. At the risk of incurring the wrath of Hong Kong action movie fans who visit my humble blog, Invisible Target, especially in the latter stages, reminded me of a Michael Bay style film. What the movie had accomplished was never enough, it simply had to go the extra mile and had grant each character their resolutions, some of which come across as terribly weak. Loud was not enough, it had to be louder. Big was not enough, it had to be bigger. Now, Benny Chan, for my money, has a superior understanding about geography and cinematography in fight sequences than his American counterpart, therefore making many of such martial arts duels quite rousing. But after a while, seeing someone flip five feet away after being kicked in the chest doesn’t elicit the same level of action junkie satisfaction as it did the first time. People jumping through glass plane windows as the interior of the room erupts in a ball of flame has a ‘been there, done that’ feeling to it. And seeing a main character sputter last words along the lines of ‘Don’t worry my friend, be worthy of the love of your girlfriend,’ while the bloke crouching over him, tough guy that he is, is desperately trying to hold back those tears pleading to come out is a bit comical rather than touching. For all I know, the comedic effect of that last part was intentional, but I somehow doubt that. Moments of emotional sincerity in Invisible Target are rarely earned unfortunately. 

All that being said, much of the cast has charisma, especially Shawn Yue and Jaycee Chan, the latter which shows off a similar ‘nice little boy’ charm as his father did before him. Chan’s character is the good cop of the bunch, who is obstinate in upholding the puritanical image of the police officer. His still green, unlike his eventual partners inspector Carson Fong detective Chan Chun, whose have roamed the streets for a few years already and bring with them s calm sense of bravado. The trio have some good chemistry through and through, so it isn’t as much the performances I would fault as it is the writing that lets the viewer down.

Invisible Target’s running length is just over two hours, and, much like a Michael Bay exercise, over welcomes its stay. Trimmed to 90-100 minutes, not only would we have been served with just the right amount of high octane stunts, but we would have also been spared some of the misplaced sentimental dialogue exchanges that plague much of the climax. Benny Chan stretches his project too far and for too long for all the pieces to comfortably blend in with one another. There is also the matter of who has whatever money Tien Yeng Seng’s gang is after, which whether by design or sloppy writing never became terribly clear. Some chap nicknamed ‘Tiger’, who had been associated in some shape or form with the gangsters, gets assassinated but for the life of me I don’t remember if ‘Tiger’ was anybody we actually saw on screen or not. The film’s set up is fine and comprehensible enough, but much of what follows felt muddled and rushed.

Finding that delicate balance between solid storytelling and delivering intense action is nothing simple, but it is possible to get the doses right. In the case of Benny Chan’s movie, far more effort went into planning and executing stunts than plot, and by the adventure’s final set piece, I was grown less and less enamoured with what was happening on screen. Despite this, I have a sneaking suspicion that in 2 or 3 years I’ll pop in Invisible Target again and wonder why I was so harsh on the film in the first place. It has some funny scenes, the three leading protagonists have decent chemistry and no one can take away the perfection with which the action is handled. For now at least, my problem lies with how the film just wants to accomplish far more than ever needs to.


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