Directed by Philip G. Atwell. Starring Jet Li, Jason Statham, Devon Aoki, John Lone, Ryo Ishibashi. (2007, R, 91 min.)
REVIEWED By Toddy Burton, Fri., Aug. 31, 2007
Statham (The Transporter series, Crank) is Jack, the ultimate tortured badass. An FBI agent with a serious bone to pick and many asses to kick, he’s a man of few words. After his partner (Terry Chen), along with the partner’s wife (Steph Song) and child, are brutally murdered by a mysterious assassin called Rogue (Li), Jack becomes a man on a mission. Cut to three years later, and Jack leads an FBI unit tracking the Asian Mafia in San Francisco. His only goal is to find Rogue. But if Jack is the ultimate badass, then Rogue is the ultimate superbadass. Essentially a killing machine, he rarely leaves a building without slaughtering everyone in it. The action involves Rogue transferring his alliances from one mob boss to another as the two families battle in a decades-old feud, attacking one another for wandering onto the wrong turf. Consequently, certain sequences feel very West Side Story but with high-speed motorcycles and no love story. The gangs are led by two expertly calm sociopaths, Chang (Lone) and Shiro (Ishibashi), and there’s some business with stolen family heirlooms, but really it’s about how many people can get their heads blown off over the course of 100-plus minutes. In the process, first-time feature director Atwell clearly displays skills he picked up directing videos for Eminem and 50 Cent. The action sequences are shot in close-ups, and with such rapid editing, it’s nearly impossible to find a sense of rhythm let alone follow what’s happening. And the emotional beats are about as subtle as one of Li’s kicks to the head. The dialogue (from writers Lee Anthony Smith and Gregory J. Bradley) includes insightful gems like, “One thing’s for sure, more blood will be spilled before this is over.” I sure hope so. It’s a frickin’ Jet Li movie. And the too-little-too-late third-act plot twist resonates as supercontrived. But, I can’t deny that there is fun to be had. It’s a thrill to watch Statham’s character casually put the peddle to the metal, driving straight into a car he’s chasing. And one of the most enjoyable characters is easily Shiro’s daughter (Aoki), a beautiful and deadly young thing who’s wont to order a chef salad at gunpoint. But she only appears briefly, and you’re left to wonder lazily what the point is and when the next action sequence will roll around.