City Under Siege

cityundersiegeHong Kong gets turned upside down as circus performers become super-powered mutants bent on destruction, led by Zhang Dachu (Collin Chou).  The only one that can stop them is the well-intentioned Sunny (Aaron Kwok) who is also affected by mutation, but uses it for good.  Things slowly turn upside down as Dachu realizes he needs Sunny's blood to regenerate.  Joining Sunny are two mutant-hunters (Zhang Jing Chu and Wu Jing) from the mainland.  Let the all-out destruction begin!

CITY UNDER SIEGE (2010) is director Benny Chan’s most ambitious project to date (Ironic considering the movie’s themes of over-ambition).  We know he can make great action scenes, but can he handle the requirements of science fiction/fantasy?  Also, can Hong Kong compete with the big superhero movies coming out of Hollywood?  Actually, effects-wise, Chan does pretty well, it’s his terrible decisions in every other department that ultimately lets this film down.

The movie opens in 1945 and shows the Japanese performing tests on Chinese prisoners.  One prisoner is mutated and very angry about it.  I like the idea of this scene, but the execution is poor.  Too much cheap-looking slow motion and awkwardly framed dialogue scenes.  One scene when two Japanese generals are talking is supposed to be dramatic, but since it is shot wide and not tight, it feels slow and clunky.  Some may cry foul here as it is yet another film that paints the Japanese as evil, but I had no problem with it.  How many movies about mutation and superpowers start during WWII?  And it’s usually the Germans.   This felt natural and organic.

After all this, the cool-looking title card came up, but instead of exploding at you like a Michael Bay film, it just fades out like it’s going to commercial.  Bummer.  Anyway, we are then introduced to Collin Chou and his band of circus-performing bad guys who go looking for Japanese treasure.  The choice to make them circus performers is weird.  They could just as easily been written as criminals that took Sunny hostage.  When we get to the underground caves, Chou unleashes the gas that enables the mutation.  For some unexplained reason, Benny Chan turns into Daniel Lee from DRAGON SQUAD and shows unnecessary flashbacks of the monster from the opening.  Thanks, but I don’t need help remembering what I saw 10 minutes ago and I’m not stupid enough to think there is no connection here.

Fortunately, the movie picks up and we get some entertaining action scenes that help bring this film to life.  The fight scenes are brief but good.  Wu Jing and Collin Chou fight a couple times.  Collin also fights Kwok in the finale.  A few sets get absolutely destroyed here.  There are also more flying daggers than the house of…well you know.  The question is: Why are a bunch of super-mutants fighting with daggers?  Well, if you think about it, hand-to-hand combat shouldn’t do much against them either, but it still happens.  None of it really makes sense.

Just when everything is going decent enough, Benny decides a music video interlude is necessary.   *face palm*  Again, I don’t need a clip show of stuff I’ve just seen.  I’m pretty sure most audiences are past wanting this junk in their action pictures.  Chan always has at least one thing in every film that makes you cringe a little.  This is that thing.  Fortunately the action-packed finale happens right after this and it is entertaining, but the damage has been done.

As far as the characters go, I actually found myself caring about Wu Jing and Shu Qi’s character.  For a Benny Chan film, that isn’t bad!  Wu Jing is so cool.  He looks great in those shades too.  He definitely made his character all it could be.  Shu Qi always has such a natural presence, you can't look away when she's on screen.  These two both elevated the film a little.  You don’t really get to know any of the villains, and thus have no choice to not like them.  It would have been nice to have a couple more scenes in the bad guy’s lair.  They pop in to commit crime or attack Sunny and that’s about it.  Also, what happened to Uncle Tak?  And the Circus for that matter?   Outside of these problems I also noticed Benny Chan's camerawork seemed off.  He's done much better than this as a director.

I guess you could say this is like THE VAMPIRE EFFECT aka THE TWINS EFFECT in that it doesn’t really add much to its genre, it just imitates it with a Hong Kong style, both the good and the bad.   Bottom line, I really wanted this movie to be good.  I want Hong Kong filmmaking to be able to compete with big Hollywood products.  Ironically, the visual effects didn’t let me down this time, but some corny decisions by Benny Chan keeps this film in camp territory only.  It’s entertaining stuff at least.  Also, please make a prequel movie for Wu Jing’s character.

** ½ out of *****

Note: Funimation's Blu-Ray has just one featurette.  I was hoping for more here.  I feel an audio commentary would have really helped me understand Benny's reasoning.

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