The problem with film hype is that the audience may be led to have ludicrous expectations for an underwhelming film that would have ended up being average if the hype was not present. Andy Lau's "Swit...
The problem with film hype is that the audience may be led to have ludicrous expectations for an underwhelming film that would have ended up being average if the hype was not present. Andy Lau's "Switch" is a glaring example of this analogy and now it falls to Donnie Yen's "Special ID", although thankfully, the latter is hardly as cringe-inducing. Hailed as THE film that marks the return of Donnie Yen to contemporary action films after "Flash Point" in 2007, the trailers for "Special ID" make it seem like it is filled with hard-hitting demonstrations of martial arts and gritty police drama a la Johnnie To's "Drug War", but the presentation starts off enjoyable only to become repetitive, frivolous and overbearing. It is a movie that sells itself solely on having Donnie Yen back onscreen kicking a** more than the story or characters.
Chen Zilong (Donnie Yen) is an undercover police officer deep within the ranks of one of China's most ruthless underworld gangs. The leader of the gang, Xiong (Collin Chou), tasks Chen with getting rid of a dangerous rival, Sunny (Andy On), who used to be Chen's loyal follower. Chen wants out, but his police contact, Captain Cheung (Ronald Cheng), wants Chen to gather more evidence against Xiong before he will reinstate Chen. As Sunny grows more suspicious, Chen fears his days are numbered. Now, he must risk everything to take down both Xiong and Sunny before it is too late. The film opens with a high-stakes game of mah-jong where Chen has to beat the other players in order to rescue his henchmen. With every losing move, Chen's henchmen is forced to swallow a mah-jong tile, but thankfully, we are saved from more stilted dialogue and acting when Chen finally comes through, only to have the losing gang challenge him to a fight before he can leave.
The fight scenes are what make "Special ID" worth the price of admission. Fans will appreciate the raw and brutal style of Donnie Yen's mixed martial arts rarely seen in polished films like "Ip Man" and "Painted Skin". The cinematography by Peter Pau and action choreography by Donnie Yen combine to create a distinct theme for each fight scene, which gives them the feeling and emphasis that are previously associated with pugilist films and Wong Kar-wai's "The Grandmaster". Particularly notable is the opening scene where Donnie Yen uses "dance" moves to dispose of a thug, the harrowing car chase scene involving Donnie Yen, Tian Jing and Andy On and final showdown between Donnie Yen and Andy On.
Fantastic action choreography aside, director Clarence Fok often tries to write Chen into a quandary by forcing him into situations where his superiors and colleagues are questioning his capability of returning to being a cop as he has been undercover for so long. Except that Chen has never done anything truly despicable while he is undercover, aside from getting numerous tattoos and adapting a rough-mannered way of speaking. Chen has to protect his special identity, but no one in the underworld is all that eager about weeding out the mole in their midst; they pick fights with Chen simply because they dislike his arrogance, rendering the plotline contrived. These are but a few of the plotlines that are shoehorned in to provide conflict for Chen. The film also tries to depict meaningful conversations between Chen and his colleagues, but the supporting characters are so shallow that if the good people behind the editing could literally cut them out of the film, save for Chen's mother (Paw Hee-ching), and it would still work.
Overall, "Special ID" is not the best film to highlight the return of the martial arts maverick that is Donnie Yen. A number of inherent problems quickly make themselves known throughout the film; scriptwriting being the root cause. All the characters are caricatures of film stereotypes in a world that is undoubtedly adult. Often, there are glimpses of the film trying its best to rise above its given material, especially when it comes to scenes involving Chen and his mother, but it would have failed if not for the earnestness and commendable action choreography from their leading man, Donnie Yen.
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