With Jet Li announcing his retirement from making action films, & the likes of Donnie Yen & Jackie Chan not getting any younger, it’s perhaps about time that another Asian actor & martial artist should step up alongside Tony Jaa to make up the next vanguard. In that spirit, here is multiple Chinese national wushu champion Wu Jing staking his claim to be the “next big thing”. You may have already seen him in ‘SPL’ (a film which, while by no means perfect, is well worth seeking out), where he shared a simply stunning knife fight with Donnie Yen, but in ‘Fatal Contact’ he takes his first lead role.
Chinese martial arts champion Kong (Wu Jing) is touring in Hong Kong with an Opera company, when a group of gangsters approach him with the proposal that he should fight for them in underground boxing clubs. Kong initially refuses as it would jeopardise his position on the National team, & ruin his chances of becoming the next Jet Li (yes, the dialogue is that blatant). However Tin, a girl in the opera company, manages to change his mind on the basis that a) it’s a lot of money, & b) she likes wearing hot pants. Well the latter would be what convinced me, anyway. Once in the fights, Kong is a great success, & has to fight a series of ever more powerful opponents, as the stakes get higher & higher.
OK, first off let’s get this out of the way – the plot is not exactly impressive stuff, being fairly generic action movie material. It does, however, feature something of a twist towards the end in a semi-successful effort to add some emotional depth, although more on that later. As for the dialogue, I’m going to be charitable & suggest that it’s all the fault of the translation into the English subtitles, but to call it lumpy, stilted, clichéd & frankly embarrassing is fairly charitable.
But frankly, it barely matters. We’re not here to see an enthralling, complex plot, or meaningful dialogue. What we want is to see some serious ass-kicking action, & to see what Wu Jing can do. And on that level, the film is a big success. Although he may trade a little too heavily on his impish smile, he turns out to be a warm & fundamentally likeable protagonist, with more dramatic range than I expected. And when it comes to the action, he delivers everything you could hope for. Fast, terse & brutal, the fight scenes are thrilling choreographed, & Wu Jing pulls off some simply stunning moves – more than once I wanted to rewind to watch it again. Can he become an international star at Jet Li’s level? Only time will tell, but the potential is certainly there.
In fact, the action scenes are so good that you can’t help wishing the film surrounding them wasn’t a bit better. Whilst it’s reasonably stylishly put together & good to look at, the plot builds in generic & predictable ways (& the outcome of the fights is seldom in any real doubt) until a final reel twist attempts to add some emotional impact. It actually succeeds, but then sadly goes too far & tips over into crass sentimentality that even Hollywood might balk at, & the final two or three minutes were so painful that it left a bitter taste in my mouth & almost overpowered the rest of the film.
Still, if you can get past these flaws, action junkies will certainly not be disappointed with this one, & as a showcase for Wu Jing’s talents it more than fits the bill. Let’s hope next time there’s a bit more of a script to string the action together with – although in fairness weak scripting has yet to hurt Tony Jaa’s career any. The HK DVD is R3/NTSC format, & comes with a pretty good anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer. Audio is Cantonese dts or Dolby 5.1, or there’s a Mandarin dub in Dolby 5.1. Subtitles are traditional Chinese or some approximation of English (sample line - “How’s you childhood?”). The only extras are two trailers (virtually identical), & a music video. Although a 2-Disc edition is available, I’m not sure if the 2nd disc features subtitles or not, so I chose the cheaper single disc.