So Close (HK 2002)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 3/23/03
Director: Corey Yuen Kwei
Cast: Shu Qi, Vicki Zhao Wei, Karen Mok, Yasuaki Kurata, Ben Lam

AMAZING!!! Female action fans take note - track this movie down immediately. This is a true return to form for action veteran Corey Yuen, featuring a style and edge that hasn't been seen since the glory days of the late 80's. Very similar in style and form to his earlier efforts like "Yes, Madam!" (1985) and "Righting Wrongs" (1986), including a nice homage to Michelle Yeoh's classic fight at the end of "Yes, Madam!" The story is about two sisters, Lin (Shu Qi) and Kwan (Zhao Wei), who also happen to be high tech assassins. After committing an utterly dazzling crime (to the tune of The Carpenter's sappy 70's love song, "Close To You" (!!!) ), the girls catch the attention of a tough and relentless forensics investigator played by Karen Mok. As these types of movies tend to go, the assassins' latest client wants to clean up all loose ends by killing them as well, which turns the second half of the movie into a non-stop action and revenge free-for-all.

First of all, the movie is a pure gem of female action spectacle. All three leading ladies are spectacular. They scorch the screen with strength, defiance, intensity, fierce conviction, and the talent and skills to prove that they're not messing around. They also perform most of their own stunts and handle the fight choreography extremely well, which is very impressive - especially in this day and age. The first half of the film is completely owned by Hong Kong glamour girl Shu Qi, who is utterly amazing in everything she does. (although the fact that there's a constant wind blowing through her perfect hair is unintentionally amusing) Then, rather surprisingly, the second half of the film becomes an action showcase for Zhao Wei and Karen Mok. Karen Mok executes her scenes with the precision and grace of a hardened veteran, and Zhao Wei proves to be extremely competent in the action department. She can stare down the barrel of a gun like no one, and does a fantastic job with both her ruthless action scenes and her heartfelt dramatic scenes. I've never liked her previous roles, but this one made me a believer. She rocks. Kung fu heavy hitters Ben Lam and Yasuaki Kurata show up at the end as "boss characters," and Kurata gives the best performance I've seen since the incredible "Fist Of Legend" (1994). Spectacular and very exciting stuff of a caliber that I certainly wasn't expecting to ever see again.

Of course, the film isn't without flaws. The story is very absurd and clichéd, and the high tech computer elements are laughably ridiculous (but easily forgiveable within the scope of the film). The film also relies just a tad too much on digital effects, and while they're tacky and unrealistic, they're usually very brief and quickly cut in with live footage to minimize their awkwardness. A lot of the composites also look silly and inappropriate, but again, within the framework of the story, most everything in the film is easily forgiven for the sake of the frantic and glamorously stylized girls 'n' guns action. Thanks, Corey!