China Strike Force (HK 2000)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 8/5/01
Director: Stanley Tong
Cast: Aaron Kwok, Noriko Fujiwara, Wang Leehom, Coolio, Mark Dacascos, Ruby Lin, Stuart Ong, Ken Lo

Hong Kong's big budget action spectacle of 2000. Darren and Alex (pop star Aaron Kwok and Wang Leehom) are police officers in Shanghai who are investigating a murder that's connected to a drug smuggling operation. Tony (Mark Dacascos) is a young upstart who's tired of dealing in legitimate business, and hooks up with drug boss Coolio from the US. Drop dead gorgeous Japanese model Noriko Fujiwara is an undercover cop who has her own score to settle with Coolio. The good guys finally manage to cooperate with each other long enough to take down Tony and Coolio in a completely over-the-top fight sequence on top of a piece of glass that's suspended forty stories in the air.

About what you would expect from a Stanley Tong action film - big budget, well executed, and a bit outlandish. And much like Stanley's last few films (such as "Supercop" (1992), "Rumble In The Bronx" (1995), and "First Strike" (1996)), "China Strike Force" has a bit too much of an American feel to it. Fortunately, the fighting is very good, thanks to the agile and physically expressive Aaron Kwok, and the wushu expertise of underrated Mark Dacascos. Even the annoying Coolio gets in some impressive and convincing chops. Noriko Fujiwara is an amazing combination of feminine grace and beauty, coupled with raw physical strength and untamed aggression. Seductive and deadly, her penetrating stare would kill you just as easily as her foot in your face. Noriko clearly owns every scene that she's in, and it's a shame she doesn't see more action and more screen time. Sadly, for all the great things going on in this film, it's full of minor dissappointments. First of all, Coolio's character is a constant irritant. Whether that's his fault, I'm not sure, but I'm thankful that he was subtitled because most of his slurred English is incomprehensible (even though many of the subtitles are laughably off). The annoying rap soundtrack is also inappropriate and spoils the tone. In the action department, many of the action scenes are spoiled to the point of absurdity by outlandish and awkward looking wire stunts and digital effects. This unfortunately makes the film look more campy and tacky than it should be. With digital wire removal becoming cheaper and easier to employ, even Chinese filmmakers are getting lazy and uninventive. Just because you can perform a wire stunt doesn't mean that you should. Wire stunts should be used sparingly in order to support the illusion of something amazing, not to create something that clearly looks impossible (especially in a contemporary action film where people shouldn't be able to defy gravity). Just because you can make a wire invisible in post production doesn't mean that the end result is believable - it more often just looks like somebody hanging from an invisible thread, which has the same overall effect as seeing the wires in the first place. Hopefully, filmmakers will get over this fad and go back to being more clever and judicious with their use of this technology in the future. It's still good entertainment with some truly jaw dropping stunts, but fans of classic raw Hong Kong action may be disappointed.