CITY UNDER SIEGE [CHUN SING GAI BEI | DIAN YING QUAN CHENG JIE BEI | 全城戒备]

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HONG KONG 2010  Directed by: Benny Chan Written by: Benny Chan, Tsang Kan-Cheung Produced by: Benny Chan, Daniel Lam  Cinematography by: Anthony Pun  Editing by: Benny Chan, Sing Yan Chan  Music by: Anthony Chue Cast: Aaron Kwok, Shu Qi, Collin Chou, Wu Jing, Zhang Jingchu

CITY UNDER SIEGE sounds like your average Hong Kong actioner, but it’s more like MUTANT KILLER CLOWNS ON A RAMPAGE really. But then it’s not. You’ll see.

Clown Sunny (Aaron Kwok), trying to match his father’s reputation as master clown, goes on an adventure hike with his fellow carnies, stumbles upon an old mine from WWII where the evil Japanese conducted even more evil experiments (does the Chinese government actually award filmmakers for their negative portrayal of the Japanese?); accidentally they set some gas free that transforms them into mutants with superpowers, and as soon as they return to the city they have nothing better to do but use these powers for criminal activities of all sorts. They are like a plague laying waste to Hong Kong, except for Sunny who instead tries to fight them and bring their reign of terror to an end with the help of reporter Angel (Shu Qi).

If you happen to have a vivid imagination the story reads interesting and unconventional, something that in the hands of visionary maverick directors like Takashi Miike or Sion Sono or Yukihiko Tsutsumi would turn into a genre-bending, no holds barred extravaganza. Under the direction of veteran helmer Benny CONNECTED Chan however it rather proves that some things don’t mix, like career and marriage, fruit and chocolate or super heroes and Hong Kong cinema.

On a ranking of things we desperately need, where would a “superhero movie from Hong Kong” be? Surely somewhere down in the 800s, jammed in between a FUTURE X-COPS sequel (#879) and BASIC INSTINCT 3 (#881). But let’s pretend for a minute that CITY UNDER SIEGE is to be taken seriously. Let’s just take a really serious look at it.

The first thing I noticed was that, not quite atypical for Hong Kong scripts, the idea of the clowns and the circus troupe and the Japanese army experiment has no relevance whatsoever for the story. In fact, after an adagio first twenty minutes or so establishing all this pomp and circumstance it’s suddenly all gone. CITY UNDER SIEGE is a simple-minded mutant action movie, no one talks about clowns or the war anymore later on. Luckily, the audience’s memory is probably as short as Benny Chan’s.

The next thing is that Aaron Kwok still cannot act, and that he is the wrong choice for the lead role: Sunny, the clumsy, good-hearted mutant not only has to save the city but also deal with a blossoming relationship with Angel. This is a delicate task for any actor, but Kwok really spoils it. It’s just like Jerry Lewis explained to Lee Evans in FUNNY BONES: there’s two types of comedians, one acts funny while the other actually is funny. Aaron Kwok is the third kind, he tries to act funny but fails miserably. Apart from the funny part he also fails to convince as mutant, or lover, or hero. Kwok is really just a clown.

The rest of the cast ain’t much better, delivering variable to underwhelming performances. The characters are one-dimensional, also thanks to the script. I dare to say though that Shu Qi is vastly underrated as actress; she’s come a long way and is very charming also in this movie, but is abused as scream queen and dumb love interest by the writers.

So let’s talk about the action then, CITY UNDER SIEGE is an action movie, isn’t it? Here comes another problem the film undoubtedly has: the mutants never ever look or feel like superheroes, instead they are like martial artists with above-average skills. That must be attributed to the excessive (and almost exclusive) use of wire fu (and also the substandard craftsmanship of CITY UNDER SIEGE). Not only is the editing of the action sequences sketchy, most of all you can always clearly see the point of gravity and where the wires were attached to the actors before they were edited out during post production. The “superheroes” are obviously only actors or stuntmen hanging on wires. Takes a bit of the wow away, doesn’t it? And it only gets worse as soon as Chan engages in a crude mix of wire fu and CGI.

The craftsmanship is an issue in other scenes as well: one time Chan chooses an irritating POV-style shot to “observe” a scene while no physical person is present, another time we can see someone smash a car door window while the button is up and the door unlocked, and so forth. Looking at the batch of action scenes CITY UNDER SIEGE features, not more than maybe one to two “ok” set pieces stand out, otherwise I’d classify the action as average to boring. No impact, no fun. What should have been solid Benny Chan action seems miscalculated: Chan tries to be out of the box, but fails to add the needed creativity to outfox himself and surprise the audience.

It all boils down to a lot of borrowing from the likes of X-MEN (the movie’s only cool moment is the Wolverine joke), FANTASTIC FOUR and HULK, a lot of drama that no one knows how to integrate and a lot of disorientation. The cast may boast both serious actors and fighters, and Benny Chan may have tried his best to bring us a contemporary homage to 80’s exploitation movies from Hong Kong, but CITY UNDER SIEGE ends up being the trash it tries to worship.

If God wanted Hong Kong to have super heroes they wouldn’t need the forthcoming rip-off MR. & MRS. INCREDIBLE that Peter Chan will unleash upon us next Chinese New Year (and God forbid he rakes in another acting award for that one like he did for BODYGUARDS & ASSASSINS).

No. God just wanted Hong Kong to be the cradle of some of the best action flicks on the planet. That’s more than enough for me. It should have been more than enough for Benny Chan.

J.


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