Wonder Seven

1994, NR, 90 min. Directed by Ching Sui-Tung. Starring Michelle Khan-Yeoh, Li Ning, Kent Cheng Juk-Si, Andy Hui Chi-On, Roger Kwok Chun-On, Hilary Tsui Ho-Ying, Xiong Xin-Xin.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 9, 1997

Ching, who directed parts two and three of the Swordsman trilogy and produced all three Chinese Ghost Story films, does an abrupt about-face with this above-average Hong Kong actioner that relies more heavily on trillions of bullets than it does on balletic, flying fist fights. There are balletic fist fights galore, to be sure, but Ching is mining more Woo territory than that of former partner Tsui Hark. With a rapid-fire, convoluted plot likely to leave even the most die-hard Hong Kong film fans scratching their heads in bewilderment, Wonder Seven is best appreciated for its reckless, wild, way-over-the-top action than anything else… but what else is new, huh? The brilliant Khan plays Ying, an assassin-thief in cahoots with scheming Triad member Tsun (Cheng). Together, they're after a mysterious floppy disc containing -- what else? -- valuable information which has been taken by an equally mysterious group of covert government agents-superheroes (the titular Wonder Seven). All things considered, the Seven, led by Li Ning's Fei and the Samo Hung-esque Andy Hui, would much rather be working on their dream of becoming master restaurateurs, but duty calls and the group is back in action once more. Ying and Fei fall for each other, which of course complicates matters even more, while the Triads attempt to kill not only the Seven, but also buddy Ying. Got that? Me neither, but so what. Like his Swordsman sagas, Ching crams the film full of fantastic action set-pieces: the Seven are high-octane dirtbike masters, gunslinging sharpshooters, and circus clowns all rolled into one. The action literally never stops, although some bits are highly derivative of previous Hong Kong outings. One in particular, the daring hospital rescue of a fallen comrade, is lifted almost part and parcel from Woo's A Better Tomorrow and Hard-Boiled. This kind of mix-and-match cinema can grow wearying at the best of times, but Ching's timely use of Ying and Fei's burgeoning romance and a plethora of 1997 in-jokes keep the film moving emotionally as well as physically. Unlike buddy Tsui Hark, Ching eschews the slow-motion and freeze-frame technique of action choreography and, instead, peppers the film with martial arts set-pieces that would make Jackie Chan wince. Taken together, it's all a bit much, but then that's what we've come to expect from Hong Kong cinema, and Ching certainly never lets audiences down. Whether or not Hong Kong action cinema can pull itself out of its recent slump remains to be seen (Wonder Seven is actually three years old), especially since “The Day” is less than a month away. Regardless, it's great to see Ching back working with guns instead of sabers. Flying Shaolin monks can only go the distance for so long.

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