It’s an unwritten rule of American action films that children are off-limits. A kid can get killed in the first act to drive the hero’s rage, but when it comes to onscreen menacing, things can’t go beyond a raised voice and the occasional shove. So there’s something refreshing about just how tough a time 10-year-old Tse Miu has in the Hong Kong movie The Enforcer. Over the course of 105 minutes, Miu gets beaten, thrown around, and tossed into fights against people twice his size. There’s never any real sense he’ll die—this is action-adventure, not tragedy—but the danger gives his scenes more weight. A bad guy willing to smash a boy’s head through a glass coffee table is one serious son of a bitch.
Jet Li stars as an undercover cop who splits his time between beating up local hoods and watching his son, Miu, sweep martial-arts tournaments. But when Li helps a criminal escape from prison in order to infiltrate Yu Rong Guang’s gang, he has to leave Miu behind with his ailing mom. A restaurant heist that goes wrong pulls policewoman Anita Mui into the mix, and she quickly hunts down Li’s family, neither of whom has any idea about Li’s work with the police. Things come to a head when Mui’s actions inadvertently break Li’s cover, putting Miu in danger and forcing Li into direct confrontation with the deeply deranged Guang.
Dragon Dynasty has built its reputation on putting out stellar DVDs of neglected kung-fu classics, so it’s a disappointment to find that their Enforcer is the same as the film’s earlier Miramax DVD release, right down to the semi-passable English dub. That caveat aside, it’s a disc worth owning. The story takes its time, but director Corey Yuen uses the first two acts to build the audience’s investment in his leads, so that by the time the fights start in earnest, they’re more than just fancy footwork. The plotting is a little weak in the mid-section, but things end on a high note, and given the strong performances from Li, Mui, and the tremendously talented Miu, this one’s worth a look.
Key features: A chatty, informative commentary track from Asian film expert Bey Logan, plus interviews with Enforcer screenwriter Wong Jing, Ken Lo, and a grown-up Tse Miu.