During Hong Kong action cinema's mid-'80s to early-'90s heyday, directors and stars like John Woo, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Tsui Hark reinvested the clichés of American cop movies and Westerns with earnest meaning, amid ridiculously amped-up fight scenes and shootouts. Contemporary HK action star Donnie Yen and director Wilson Yip were young, powerless hangers-on in those days, but over the last several years, they've been trying to revive the attitude and content of HK Classic, first with the policier SPL (a.k.a. Kill Zone) and then with the martial-arts melodrama Dragon Tiger Gate. Their third collaboration is Flash Point, in which Yen plays a detective trying to bring down a Vietnamese gang alongside his undercover partner, Louis Koo.
But the problem with Yen and Yip's retro exercises—at least so far—is that they only show a superficial understanding of what made films like Hard Boiled and Once Upon A Time In China great. It's cool that Yen and Yip are backing away from postmodernism and arthouse expressionism in order to make movies that un-ironically kick ass, but Flash Point could easily stand just a little ambition. Without any moves toward psychological exploration, spiritual torment, or historical grounding, the audience is left with yet another dimwitted cops-and-robbers flick, populated by gruff commanding officers saying things like "You're a loose cannon and you've pissed off too many of the wrong people!"
Which is unfortunate, because with the subtitles disabled, Flash Point plays a lot better. Yip isn't much of an artist, but he's a terrific stylist, and the film's brightness and vivid color offer a modern alternative to the flat, shadowy look of the older HK action fare. And Yen is an excellent action choreographer, employing mixed martial arts techniques to give fight scenes a real kineticism, manifested in a lot of shots of people taking hard elbows to the neck and back. This is a partnership clearly capable of greatness, if only they can find a screenwriter to make their stories land as hard as the punches.
Key features: A set of blandly conventional making-of featurettes, plus a chummy commentary track by Yen and professional HK expert Bey Logan, the latter of whom calls Flash Point "a modern martial-arts masterpiece," although his friendship with Yen and Yip might call his objectivity into question.