The New York Asian Film Festival runs from June 28 to July 14. For more information, click here.
There’s an interesting thread running through this year’s series of films where the filmmakers are taking a sort of perverse glee in taking stories we’ve all seen a thousand time before and twisting them into strange new directions. Jacky Lee’s The Fatal Raid may not be quite as explicit in these sorts of subversions as some of the other movies I’ve seen thus far, but in its own way it turns what could have been a boilerplate cops and robbers thriller into something with a bit more dramatic heft than you might be expecting.
The corkscrew plot deserves to be revealed to viewers in the moment, as to say too much would ruin some of the more interesting turns the film takes in its second half, but suffice to say that there are bad guys doing bad things and good(ish) guys trying their best to stop them.
Superintendent Tam (Patrick Tam) and Madame Fong (Jade Leung) are Interpol agents tasked with the security of the Deputy Commissioner as she travels to Macao for a symposium. It’s been roughly twenty years since the last time the pair were in Macao on a mission, and it will not shock you to find out said mission went wrong.
(Not for nothing, but just how quickly and catastrophically it all goes wrong is pretty amusing in its own right.)
Along for the ride with Tam and Fong are squad leader Zi Han (Min Chen) and Alma (Jeana Ho), a rookie with whom she bickers constantly. Teamed with Macao hotshots Tong Yu (Jade Lin) and Shella (Hidy Yu), the team finds themselves involved in a battle with young anarchists that may be part of a wider conspiracy that will force the old guard and the next generation alike to atone for the sins of the past.
For me personally, the big draw is the appearance of Jade Leung, the Hong Kong action heroine who never quite got her due. Looking impossibly youthful and assaying the role of the troubled cop running from her past with decades worth of accumulated gravitas, she makes her every onscreen moment count. Everyone else is solid (especially Tam, who has to hit a lot of complicated notes over the course of the film), but in the end it’s Leung who makes the biggest impression.
There are remarkable similarities to last year’s quite excellent Extraordinary Mission, which played with somewhat similar themes. Raid isn’t quite as good as Mission, which did a much better job of evoking the over-the-top action of Hong Kong cinema past. Aside from a few brief and bracing bouts of hand-to-hand combat, the action seems primarily inspired by the bank robbery shootout from Heat. But Jacky Lee lacks Michael Mann’s ability to do that special transcendence thing that pretty much only Michael Mann can do. So all the shootouts have an unfortunate same-y feel.
Where it makes up for the somewhat lackluster action is in the full-throated embrace of the tenets of the Heroic Bloodshed genre. It takes a while to get there, but when the second half unfolds and everyone’s true selves start to emerge, it’s about as operatic as it gets. The film is utterly sincere in its themes of redemption and loyalty, and the melodrama runs thick. The film even manages to make something out of the hackneyed flash forward opening; the movie starts with selected moments from the final shootout that play first as typical bullet blitzkrieg antics, but unearth a whole other layer when we come back to it knowing who everyone is and what’s really happening. What at first looked like a crescendo reveals itself to be far more of a requiem. It’s an inventive gambit, skillfully handled.
On top of that, the occasional offbeat touches that modern Hong Kong action seems to have filtered out entirely come into play here, and they are delightful. I found myself wildly entertained by the weird way all the bad guys in the movie literally do fistfuls of cocaine, and the inexplicable moment where in the midst of the tragedy-tinged final shootout, bumbling comic relief cop Hang (a relentlessly goofy Hang Chiu) shows up to break the fourth wall and completely disrupt the vibe. This is exactly the sort of stuff they don’t do in America, and probably for good reason. But it keeps things interesting…
The Fatal Raid is never going to be remembered as an action classic. But it gets the job done and manages to spring a surprise or two in the process.
Plus, it brought Jade Leung back into the spotlight. Not a bad legacy by any stretch of the imagination.