dvd review: INVISIBLE TARGET

Director John Woo’s 1992 masterpiece Hard Boiled was a significant film for many reasons. First and foremost was that even within the context of Hong Kong action films—films easily recognizable for their hyperbolic, over-the-top action—Hard Boiled seemed to stand head and shoulders above the rest. Woo’s epic tale raised the bar for Hong Kong action cinema, while at the same time serving as a mind-blowing introduction to those unfamiliar with these films. And while many films and many filmmakers have tried to top Hard Boiled, even Woo himself has not been able to emerge from the spectacular shadow cast by him and his movie. The sad truth is that every action film that comes out of Hong Kong that deals with bad guys versus cops will always be compared to Hard Boiled, and even ambitious ones like director Benny Chan’s Invisible Target, with its impressive action pieces, will suffer from comparison.

When a ruthless gang of criminals stages a daring armored car heist in broad daylight, they leave a massive wake of destruction and dead bodies in their path. Among the dead is the fiancé of police detective Chan Chun (Nicholas Tse), the typical loose cannon cop who now has nothing to live for, and is bent on revenge. Meanwhile, detective Carson Fong (Shawn Yue) runs afoul of the same ruthless gang, leading him down a path that will introduce him to Chun. But wait, there’s more. Rookie cop Wai King (Jaycee Chan) is trying to find out the fate of his older brother, an undercover cop who has gone missing. Of course, King’s brother was investigating the gang that Chun and Fong are now hunting, resulting in the inevitable three-way team up.

The plot becomes convoluted in the typical Hong Kong fashion when it is revealed that the gang was betrayed by someone they were working with who has taken the money they stole from the armored car heist. In the process, three of the gangsters were killed. This pushes cold-blooded gang leader Tien Yeng Seng (Wu Jing) down his own path of revenge as he tries to collect the money he and his brothers in crime have stolen. Of course, all of this leads to an inevitable showdown complete with massive explosions, tons of flying bullets, and break-neck stunts as the cast beats the crap out of each other; but not before all three cops bond in brotherhood, figure out which cop was working with the gang, and King discovers the fate of his brother.

The problem with many Hong Kong films—at least as they are perceived by Western audiences—are that the plots can become overly complicated and convoluted. At some point, even in the best of Hong Kong actions films, it is quite likely that silly gweilo audiences will scratch their heads in confusion. This is true of Invisible Target, which essentially features four main characters—the three cops and the gang leader—as well as a host of supporting characters, all of whom seem to have their own specific subplot, all fighting for the attention of the audience amidst a barrage of flying hot lead and explosions. It all becomes a bit overwhelming. And to make matters worse, for an action film Invisible Target is heavy on exposition, to the extent the film frequently slows to a grinding halt as the characters simply talk, talk and talk.

The script for Invisible Target tends to be a typical Hong Kong action film weighed down with melodrama and heavy-handed dialog. There are more than a few scenes where the characters expound on virtue, honor and the nature of good and evil, which are fine in measured doses, but seem to go on forever in a film that clocks in at over two hours. As the film moves along at what can only be described as a stop-and-go pace, the whole thing just starts to drag more and more, until you don’t even care that much about getting another kick-ass action sequence—you just want it to be over.

As an action film, Invisible Target delivers the goods. There is top-notch stunt work, including an amazing chase sequence that includes Nicholas Tse getting hit by a bus that must be seen to be appreciated. But the film suffers from being too long, with too much expository dialog and one of those simple Hong Kong plots that still manages to be convoluted (I’m still trying to figure out how that happens). At the end of the day, Invisible Target is a mixed bag of tricks, as it offers some inspired action sequences, while at the same time inducing more than a few yawns and confused looks as it grinds to halt whenever it tries to actually be about something.

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