Sunday, January 9, 2011

Fatal Contact

I have never seen an unassuming martial arts movie go so bad so fast. Fatal Contact stars Wu Jing in an ill-defined role in a very thin plot line about underground fighting in Hong Kong. That's not a huge problem though because there's a lot of charm and grit to the majority of Fatal Contact. The movie allows plenty of opportunities for Jing to show off his skills, and there's a good, off-kilter supporting performance from pop star Ronald Cheng. As a martial artist, Jing is certainly impressive. His speed is amazing, and I was repeatedly struck dumb by his spinning kicks and back kicks.

Despite all these positives, it's difficult to give this film even a half-hearted recommendation. Up until the the final match, the movie is decent and seems to know what it wants to do. Jing's character (Kong) is convinced to join the Hong Kong underground fighting circuit for easy cash. As he does so, his abilities lead to higher and higher stakes and he becomes conflicted by his increasingly violent use of martial arts.  The final straw comes when he is ordered to throw a fight.

At this point, the movie has set up a great finale for a penultimate fight sequence. Will Kong throw the fight? Will he realize that he's not using his skills in appropriately? How will he extricate himself from the underground fight scene he's joined? Further, I liked the cautionary aspects of the story in terms of what happens when you mix with the wrong people (the 'fatal contact' of the title?), and there were also some subplots with secondary characters that were interesting enough to make me want to see how them resolved.

No spoilers here, but as soon as the match Kong is ordered to throw ends (complete with rain falling on cue - yuck) you may as well shut the movie off if you're a martial arts fan. The action is over, and all that's left is a lot of cheesy melodrama until the film drags itself - a half-dead rotting carcass - to the rolling credits. Worst of all, the movie fails to satisfactorily resolve any of its plotlines or characters. It takes the easy way out across the board or simply doesn't even bother.

What happened? While director Dennis Law does a great job filming his movie, his talents as a screenwriter are slender and he is clearly incapable of resolving even modest character and plot conflict without resorting to over the top dramatics. Kong's inner conflict vanishes as if it had never existed, and Law should know better that to end a movie in this genre with a lot of weepy scenes as if it were a chick flick. It's not an exaggeration to say that Fatal Contact turns into an entirely different - and very, very bad - movie as it enters its last 20-30 minutes.

So the question is, could I watch this movie and just shut it off after the final fight? If so, I could haltingly recommend it. Unfortunately, the martial arts aspects of the film are not sufficiently wrapped up (nor are they ever). So despite really great performances by Wu Jing, I cannot recommend Fatal Contact. Wu Jing, however, has the goods as a martial artists and I'd love to see his skills highlighted in a (way) better film.

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