“Flashpoint” is such a good thriller for so much of its length that it’s kind of a betrayal when the ending falls apart.
Even as a huge fan of Donnie Yen. I wouldn’t try to argue that Flash Point (Ngoi No) is a great ‘film’ in the traditional sense. It suffers from uneven pacing, Louis Koo’s acting (or lack thereof). And a scene in which Donnie Yen gloats shirtless on the beach just because, well. He’s a perfect human specimen and that’s what he does. And yet I have watched “Flash Point” at least three times now. Why? Because it features some of the best and most hard-hitting action scenes of the past twelve years. Donnie Yen’s fight choreography is an exciting blend of MMA-style takedowns with traditional Chinese martial arts. The final bout between Donnie Yen and Collin Chou. Which extends for over eight minutes long, is, simply put, a fight for the ages.
“Flash Point” is ostensibly a prequel to Donnie Yen and Wilson Yip’s 2005 collaboration “Kill Zone” (AKA “Sha Po Lang’). However, knowledge of that film is hardly a perquisite to enjoying or understanding “Flash Point’s” story. All you need to know is that is that Donnie Yen is a hard-boiled cop who will do whatever it takes to catch the bad guys. With “Kill Zone,” Donnie and Wilson managed to take the wrestling and submission techniques made popular by MMA events and incorporate those into traditional Hong Kong fight scenes. In “Flash Point,” they push this signature style to the next level. This is truly an action-thriller that has it all: blistering one-on-one combat, bloody gunplay, and even a brief chase scene with elements of parkour.
Unbeknownst to most fans, Wilson Yip is something like the Wong Kar-Wai of action movies. Donnie Yen revealed in an extensive English-language interview for “Flash Point” that Wilson likes to play his films ‘by ear’ – in other words, the script is not written in stone. Actors may arrive on the set and deviate from the screenplay, ‘riffing’ on what they want do in an action or dialogue scene.
This creates some contention for Donnie, who is fond of the Hollywood way of filmmaking. And yet also seems to be one of the reasons why these two men work so well together. There’s no denying that the plot in “Flash Point” does not feel entirely thought out. Scenes seem to follow each other without a clear idea of what the story is about. Is Louis Koo the protagonist or is Donnie? The audience can’t really decide and neither, it seems, can the filmmakers.
As a result, the majority of the action in “Flash Point” – also known as the reason why most people are watching it – is crammed into the last thirty minutes. The third act is an orgy of violence, including a scene in which Donnie Yen wields a sniper rifle that’s almost as big as he is, that should satisfy any action junkie. However, getting to that point can be about as enthralling as a trip to the dentist.
Louis Koo chain-smokes his way through the movie, occasionally waking up and realizing he’s supposed to act – to which he responds by yelling. Actress Fan Bing Bing, normally luminous, is photographed in an unflattering way in the rather thankless role of Koo’s love interest. Only the bad guys – played by Collin Chou. Xing Yu and Ray Lui – seem to be having any fun with their parts. And it’s their colorful performances that help keep “Flash Point” entertaining during its more slow-paced moments.
Then again, once Donnie Yen and Collin Chou finally come face to face and get ready to throwdown…all your quibbles or criticisms of the film will fly out the window. What follows is one of the most bone-crunching, jaw-dropping, bloody-up-your-nose fight scenes in over a decade. Both Donnie and Collin put their all into this fight, and their stunt work and choreography has yet to be topped or even equaled in most of martial arts cinema. My hat is off to Donnie and his entire stunt crew. And to Wilson Yip for knowing how to expertly capture all the action onscreen. There’s no shakycam or quick cut editing here – camera work is fluid and. Although you’ll notice the occasional stuntman stand-in on repeated viewings, everything looks painfully real.
Chances are the first “Ip Man” will remain the definitive collaboration for Donnie Yen and Wilson Yip. I’m willing to bet that “Ip Man” was also the first subtitled martial arts film (phim vo thuat) that many casual American moviegoers had seen since “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”
If you have any friends or co-workers who were bowled over by “Ip Man” and are looking for their next Donnie Yen fix, “Flash Point” is the direction to point them in. As for die-hard action buffs and martial arts lifers like us, “Flash Point” deserves a place on our shelf. The good news is that Well Go USA’s new blu-ray looks and sounds great as well, warranting an upgrade even if you already have the Dragon Dynasty DVD. It may not be the most polished Hong Kong thriller out there but the Donnie Yen vs. Collin Chou battle alone certifies “Flash Point” as a must see for fight fans.