Hit Team (2001)
Daniel Wu heads the cast of this hard-hitting Hong Kong police thriller that fits in the John Woo mold. Four friends form a vigilante unit when their former police partner is paralyzed in a gangland ambush. Their plan is to steal from the same gang enough money to pay their fallen comrade’s medical bills. The plot turns violent when they clash with the Hit Team, a covert police squad dedicated to solving crimes involving heavy firepower.
I’m no expert I’ve watched a decent amount of foreign movies; In particular movies from Eastern Asia. Whether they came from local distributors like Well Go USA or Chinese companies like Mandarin Films there has been one constant; the subtitling has been at least good. There may be a missing letter here or there but for the most part it has been stellar. This streak of good luck changed for me with the early Dante Lam film Hit Team. The money was obviously put onto the screen because this is some of the worst subtitling I’ve ever seen. You know the “Wellcome” in the title? That’s one of the funnier moments of translation idiocy. For the most part it’s a cobbled mess of past and present tense. I wouldn’t mind but it’s hard to take a dramatic moment seriously when you’re trying to decipher a riddle from Yoda. Sorry for the rant but I had to get that off my chest. What about the actual movie?
For the most part the movie works. Daniel Wu and Alex To are the two leads and they deliver. Despite looking relatively young Wu is able to pull off the tough, by-the-book squad commander. No matter how good he is though its Alex To that gets to truly shine. As the leader of rogue cops watching him deal with the politics of the job and doing what he thinks needs to be done is a delight. His performance is able to convey sympathetic and intensity flawlessly. Speaking of intense the shoot outs are quite fun. Dante Lam was going for more realistic gunfights which helps it stand out from the pseudo-John Woo style these kinds of movies usually have.
The only downfall, which is admittedly unfair, is how dated the movie feels. Despite being released in 2001 it has a very 90’s feel to it. I know it shouldn’t be an issue but for whatever reason it really stood out to me. The movie can also get a bit melodramatic but let’s be real; this is hardly rare for a Chinese crime movie. If you look past these bits you’ll find a fun action movie and a good introduction to Dante Lam’s work.
Legendary Amazons (2011)
Set in the Song Dynasty, when the men of the Yang Clan are massacred in battle, their women, from elderly grandmother to little sisters, put on armor, take up swords, and lead the army to victory seeking vengeance against the armies, as well as the corrupt official who allowed it to happen.
Produced by Jackie Chan, this action-packed war epic of the real-life story of the Yang family s women generals stars Cecilia Chung as Mu Guiying, the celebrated woman warrior and Yang family daughter-in-law, as well as veteran wuxia actress Cheng Pei Pei as the 100-year-old Yang matriarch. ’90s action sweetheart She Taijun, Yukari Oshima and Taiwanese actor/singer Richie Ren also star in this epic and legendary martial arts spectacular.
Oh Legendary Amazons, you are so insanely flawed. In a tidal wave of period pieces of varying quality Legendary Amazons stands out as one of the most fun and stupidest of them all. Director Frankie Chan decides to forgo things like character and plot and let the action be the main focus and it looks alright for the most part. This is quickly undermined by some of the dirt worst green screen effects you have ever seen. I’m pretty sure Linkin Park music videos have looked more natural than the sky in Legendary Amazons.
As weak as the effects were they were Avatar next to the story and characters. Admittedly that’s a bit harsh but not too far from the truth. On a base level the story is fine. A town of women joining together to fight a tyrannical dynasty makes for a great story. This would work if the cast weren’t interchangeable barring a couple of roles. Aside from Cecilia Chung as Mu Guiying the other females in the movie are all pretty much the same. Despite showing off a bit of personality and specific weapons in the beginning these things are quickly replaced with most of them being given the same weapon and haircuts. At a certain point you see one of them die and you think “Eh, it wasn’t the one with double hammers so whatevs.”
To me this plays out like a good Michael Bay movie. There is tons of action and it can be a blast. But if you go in looking for anything beyond that you will be sorely disappointed. But in the crowded Chinese epic genre the lack of pretension is a refreshing breath of fresh air. Just don’t expect any award winning performances.
Writer’s Note- Full disclosure, plot summaries taken from Rotten Tomatoes.