I had to coax, ever so slightly, The Boy into seeing this modern-day Shaw Brothers picture, but not much. The trailer looks like a dumb action flick. But a fun dumb action flick. And he was pondering a bit why it was he would go see something like this where, for example, Hobbes and Shaw—excuse me, Fast and Furious Presents Hobbes and Shaw just leaves him cold. Is it just a kind of hipsterism? (This came up in spades for the second feature, Ne Zha, which is the sort of family film if, produced in America, we wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole.)
The story (which both of us lost track of at points, but got back fairly early on) is that two orphan boys who are super-smart and high-spirited and best friends (even while being fierce competitors) are approached by kidnappers at the orphanage. One manages to get away while the other looks like he’s done for. His pal hesitates, then runs back and rescues his little buddy—in the process being severely injured and snatched away.
I would think the injury would pretty much be the end of any kidnapping attempt, but the scar is super-important to the plot later on.
Anyway, rather than being sold into sexual slavery (because that’s the tragic most likely event, and we want a fun semi-gritty story, not a crushingly depressing one), he’s trained a school for—well, honestly, I’m not 100% sure what kind of school this was. Some sort of assassin/spy school, which is quite horrifying and not at all as fun as it sounds. Point is, he becomes a hostile agent being used by Evil Bastards Inc. for their grand schemes, which start with getting him on the Hong Kong police force.
But at the point our story begins, the two characters are meeting again, 30 years later, while the one guy is the agent/police-department-mole, and the other is a high-integrity super-cop who knows that there’s a mole in the agency and pretty well suspects both that the guy is his long-lost pal and the mole. They’re on a mission to collect and protect a hacker girl who managed to hack-into (and lock) Evil Bastards Inc.’s system, which is good, because Evil Bastards Inc. has got a lot of tricks up its sleeve.
The gun play is good. The car chases, too. The boy-turned-mole isn’t really evil, and that subplot is adequate to allowing us to like him. The acting is good—you like the characters. The bad guys are not super memorable. The hacker girl gets more character development without a lot of screen time than I was expecting. A lot of people get to be heroes, which is to say, they get to die to save innocent lives. This is endearing.
The action ramps up and culminates with (as seen in the trailer) a car chase scene during and co-located with the Running of the bulls in Pamplona. The ending is over-the-top in a fun, comic-book way.
The music is good.
It’s not necessarily a knock-your-socks-off kind of flick but did I mention it’s 98 minutes (with credits)? That’s not snark, that’s the movie telling us, the viewer: “Hey, we got a fun, fast story to tell you and it’s more-or-less completely free of any particularly deep message or politics. We think you’ll have fun.”
I mean, maybe there’s a subtext in there about…I don’t know what, the evils of capitalism? A lot of Chinese movies will have that, but it’s always phrased in a way where it comes out “Don’t be consumed by materialism”, which is pretty basic advice.
It’s a sequel to a 2016 film which itself was based on a TV series from 2014, with the original actors reprising their roles. I would have guessed (had you asked) that the “Line Walker” premise was just a phrasing device where a few characters passed through to anchor the series and the main stars were replaced—because they died—every time. But death isn’t a very serious thing in Chinese movies, or more accurately, the appearance of damage that should obviously kill someone is only as serious as the character lets it be.
Obviously a pretty common action trope, taken to the nth degree here. It works. I mean, when the bulls come in, you know all bets are off. I wouldn’t be surprised to see everyone back for a sequel.