Monday, 16 July 2007

Invisible Target 男儿本色 (2007)

Party like it's 1980 again!

If you comprehend the Mandarin title of Invisible Target, you'd realise it's just two characters away from similarity to John Woo's A Better Tomorrow. That, by the way - and I kid you not - is the gimmick of Invisible Target. It's almost as if John Woo was still making cops and robbers movies in Hong Kong, and Infernal Affairs hadn't happened to its film industry, but Invisible Target is indeed a movie where the theme of brotherhood, loyalty and justice plays out as much for the cops as for the robbers. Now, I'm not sure why Benny Chan has the fascination for a long-past genre, but this movie would have been a breath of fresh air from the deluge of Infernal Affairs wannabe cop thrillers of this decade, if it hadn't been almost a facsimile of the old 1980s and 1990s cop and robber movies.

But anyway, we have a trio of cops (yes, they're an "odd trio"/mismatched buddies pairing) all going after a newly resurgent violent professional gang of mercenaries. Nicholas Tse wants revenge because the mercenaries' last heist blew up his girlfriend, while a scrappy Shawn Yue has a personal grudge against the gang because they humiliated him in public recently, and freshed-faced rookie Jaycee Chan wants to know if his missing elder brother, another cop, is working undercover with them and hasn't actually turned rogue. They may come from disparate sources, but the squabbling cops will learn the value of brotherhood in a nice bonding session involving massage oils, in order to come a step closer to apprehending the bomb, parkour, and kungfu crazy crooks. The professional gang of mercenaries just want their money back after an insider behind the scenes stole it from them after their final heist. They too are motivated by a strong sense of brotherhood and loyalty, and have a touching backstory somewhere about growing up in the same orphanage and having no one else to trust and depend on. So, whose cause is superior; whose sense of brotherhood will reign supreme? Find out in Benny Chan's modern resurrection of 1980s John Woo style cops vs robbers thriller!

There are only a few things I would judge a film that defies modern fads and goes for an older genre: Does Invisible Target do the older cop genre justice? Does it offer new insights to the older genre? Revitalise it? Provide a compelling reason for audiences and filmmakers not to follow the trend of Infernal Affairs wannabes? In its defense, I'd say that Invisible Target is a very competently-written movie with excellent directing, and Benny Chan's attempt at resurrecting the old genre benefits from the production values of the modern HK film industry. The setpieces are as old school as they come and some even more old school, like a pivotal fight scene (in terms of boding for the cops) in a teahouse that looks and feels like a setpiece in a classic Shaw wuxia flick. All the conversations (and their eventual payoff) about brotherhood and loyalty also remind us of the range of emotions that Infernal Affairs wannabes tend to leave out. The impact of this film could be even far greater, though, if Benny Chan remembered the basic rules of the old cop vs gangster films and followed them more thoroughly, especially at the end. I'm also puzzled at the scripting - it feels that there's one cop too many - Nicholas Tse and Shawn Yue play almost identical characters, and their interaction and setup in this movie tends to obfuscate the real cop buddy dynamic that's central to the old school cop genre Benny Chan is resurrecting.

In my mind, there still isn't that extra something that will convince me that Invisible Target is a sufficient effort to reverse the trend of HK cop films. It is, however, an excellent antidote to any audience feeling the jaded feeling from watching too many similar HK cops and gangsters films in the past few years.

First published at incinemas on 19 July 2007

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