The Avenging Fist (HK 2001)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 2/25/02
Director: Andrew Lau and Corey Yuen Kwei
Martial Arts Choreography: Corey Yuen Kwei
Cast: Wang Leehom, Stephen Fung, Kristy Yang, Gigi Leung, Chin Kar Lok, Yuen Biao, Samo Hung, Cecilia Yip, cameo by Ekin Cheng

In a futuristic Hong Kong, scientific experiments were performed on a group of police officers to unlock the powers of "the forbidden zone," which is an untapped area of the human mind with vast potential. This power can be transferred into a devastating physical force by the use of a power glove, but the glove proved to have side effects and the project was abandoned. Only three of the test subjects survived: Thunder (Yuen Biao), Dark (Samo Hung), and War 21. Twenty years later, War 21 has gone insane and wants revenge on the government, and it's up to Thunder's young and rebellious son Nova (Wang Leehom) to stop him. Will he master the Avenging Fist in time to save the world?

From the astonishing first few seconds of the film I thought I was in for something extra special, but it quickly falls apart into a series of increasingly disappointing set pieces. Director Andrew Lau is in a serious rut after directing the very similar "The Stormriders" (1998), "A Man Called Hero" (1999), and "The Duel" (2000), but I certainly can't fault him for not being ambitious. While his productions keep getting slicker and more spectacular, they're also becoming more boring and uninteresting. Most of the visual effects are very nice and Hong Kong looks like a combination of "Blade Runner" (1982) and "The Fifth Element" (1997). However, the film also has its fair share of poorly realized effects, bad compositions, and ineffective digital wire removal. With Corey Yuen, Samo Hung, Yuen Biao, and Chin Kar Lok involved, I was hoping for some really kick-ass kung fu, but sadly that era has long passed and that generation has little to offer contemporary movie audiences. Instead, the action scenes are handed off to the newer generation of attractive young Hong Kong actors who know how to brood and pose, but don't have the physical training and conditioning to be convincing martial artists. As such, the fighting scenes look like MTV montages of wire stunts, arm waving, and menacing glares, which is marginally entertaining at best. Like Lau's previous efforts, the film has a certain anime feel and attempts to bludgeon the viewer with melodrama and sentimentality, but it only comes across as being superficial and silly. I'm not exactly sure what Lau is doing wrong, but this is the same complaint I have about all of his films. It's also overly talky and tends to drag. If the characters need to spend so much time explaining things to the audience, then the story is too complicated and should be simplified. On the plus side, the film certainly looks fantastic, sounds great, and despite some horrible editing is overall a top rate production. It just lacks any true feeling, which ironically is the thematic pillar of the whole story.