Director Wilson Yip seems to have fooled himself into thinking heâ€™s made a serious crime movie along the lines of Infernal Affairs but beneath the films highly stylised look is a decidedly simple story. When Wong Po has the key witness in a case against him murdered, Detective Chan dedicates his remaining time on the force to bringing him down. With his time running out and Inspector Ma set to replace him he decides to frame Wong for murder. But how far will he go to make sure the case is airtight?
Simon Yam is good as Chan, although the story throws a little too much at the character (heâ€™s got a brain tumour thatâ€™s killing him and a daughter he adopted from the witness Wong had murdered) instead of giving us a little more insight into what makes him tick. He clearly had a beef with Wong Po even before the witness is murdered but the script gives us no inkling as to why. Yam a great actor but heâ€™s not given enough here to create a fully rounded character. His crack crime fighting team fair even worse, reduced to mere ciphers for the bad guys to pick off. Any attempts to make us care about them are so heavy handed that they almost have the opposite effect.
Yam is there to give the film some acting gravities while fellow headliners Sammo Hung and Donnie Yen dish out some action. Sammo Hung is excellent as the evil Wong Po, imagine a Chinese Kingpin and youâ€™ll have some idea of the intimidating figure he presents. Yen on the other hand is the films most righteous character, as Ma heâ€™s a man who takes responsibility for his actions and when he finds out about Chanâ€™s plan to frame Wong heâ€™s torn between two evils â€“ letting a killer go or perverting justice. Apart from a brief brawl early on though, anyone wanting to see the two martial arts legends going at it will have to wait for the action filled climax. In fact the film is heavy going at times as it edges to that inevitable confrontation and you start to wonder if it will be worth the wait.
Thankfully when the action finally kicks in it really delivers the goods. Before Donnie takes on Sammo he has to take out his murderous assassin played by Jacky Wu and their fight is one of the best martial arts scraps Iâ€™ve ever seen in a Hong Kong movie. Yen was the action director on the film and credit goes to him rather than Yip for this memorable face off. The Ma, armed with a police baton, takes on the blade wielding assassin in a stunning display of fight choreography and clever direction.
With Wu out of the way itâ€™s time for the films main event â€“ Sammo vs. Donnie. Iâ€™ve seen several Donnie Yen films but I think he looks better here than ever before, not bad for a guy in his mid-forties. Heâ€™s got ten years on Sammo though but the big guy still has what it takes. The pair deliver a bone crunching, furniture shattering fight that rounds the film out nicely but it doesnâ€™t quite overshadow the previous battle between Yen and Jacky Wu.
The film throws in a surprise ending thatâ€™s completely unexpected, yet not inappropriate. Itâ€™s that ending, along with the two fights at the end of the film that make this a must see. If Yip hadnâ€™t been taking things too seriously we might have had a better film instead of just a great final act.