Director: Tsai Yueh-Hsun
Cast: Mark Chao, Lin Geng-Xin, Huang Bo, Chang Chun-Ning, Zha Na, Terri Kwan, Christopher Lee
Opens: 9 October 2014
Rating: PG13 (Violence) / 126 mins
This reviewer is fighting with every fibre of his being not to make a Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice joke. This reviewer has failed. In this Taiwanese action flick, our super team is not that of Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent, but of Harbour City cops Wu Ying-xiong (Chao) and Chen Zhen (Lin). Following his rescue of a hijacked plane in the first film The Dawn Of Assault, Wu Ying-xiong has become the poster child for the Harbour City police. His new partner Chen Zhen doesn’t think quite as highly of him as everyone else does, but they have to put their heads together to foil a massive threat to Harbour City. The Nightwalkers, a highly-trained and well-equipped terrorist organisation, have captured wanted criminals and, in a sick form of vigilante justice, have unleashed them upon the city as suicide bombers. The Nightwalkers steal an EMP rocket and, in addition to killing all power to the city, are bent on releasing the lethal Irukanji virus into the air. With the government’s black-ops team crippled, the two cops must go it alone to save Harbour City from destruction.
Black And White: The Dawn Of Justice is the second film based on the 2009 TV series Black And White, also starring Chao as Wu Ying-xiong. This is a franchise where the hero’s name literally translates to “hero”. The Dawn Of Justice is a bombastic, over-the-top action spectacular that is deeply silly but is somehow all the more enjoyable for it. Right out of the gate, we get an action sequence in which the baddies jump their motorcycles out of a truck, backflip off said motorcycles onto the roof of an official government vehicle carrying the defence department’s top brass, use a plasma cutter to break into the vehicle and receive air support in the form of a henchwoman in a black leather skirt, firing a mini-gun mounted on a stealth helicopter straight out of GI Joe. Now, this isn’t exactly “so bad it’s good”, but it’s on that spectrum. As of late, we’ve seen Asian films that try to emulate the post-Bourne grittiness of Hollywood actioners to limited success. In this movie, any semblance of realism is tossed out the window with wild abandon and that’s far from a bad thing.
Tsai Yueh-Hsun, who worked on the Black And White series among other TV shows and made his feature film debut with The Dawn Of Assault, deserves applause for this ambitious undertaking. The action is almost wall-to-wall, the film only sagging slightly during its third act before the climax. There’s a great mix of crazy, gigantic fireball-fuelled set pieces and intense hand-to-hand combat sequences. The visual effects work is far from wholly convincing, particularly the aforementioned computer-generated helicopter. However, the effort taken to create a high-octane extravaganza akin to Hollywood productions but on a fraction of the budget is evident. Stunt coordinator and second-unit director Jack Gill has worked on Fast Five and fight designer Ron Yuan’s credits include 24 and Prison Break; their expertise help Tsai realise his vision. This reviewer was giddy with child-like excitement when the Chen Zhen character leapt onto an attack drone, wrestling with it in mid-air while forcibly turning its guns on the bad guys.
Of course, it is impossible to take any of this even remotely seriously. Whatever pathos Tsai was aiming for is undercut by the goofiness of the stock villainous scheme. Lam Xi-en, the leader of the Nightwalkers, is shaggy-haired, wears aviator shades, is covered in tattoos and speaks in a low, gravelly growl. He’s on a mission to “cleanse the city of its sins” and he actually delivers a speech beginning with “You think I’m a bad guy. I’m not. I’m God.” Of course, there’s a faux-shocking revelation regarding his true identity.
However, there is a good deal of intentional humour in the film as well and the buddy-cop pairing of Chao’s Ying-xiong and Lin’s Chen Zhen carries the film. Yes, their “bickering old married couple” dynamic is not new to the genre, but it did remind this reviewer of Riggs and Murtagh from the Lethal Weapon movies – this is high praise. Reprising his role of Huang Shi-kai from the series, Shiou Jieh Kai is slightly more of a heartthrob than the two leads. Returning from The Dawn Of Assault, Huang Bo is equal parts sympathetic and tragicomic as Xu Dafu, the misunderstood criminal who wound up helping Ying-xiong in the last film. Singaporeans should get a kick out of seeing local star Christopher Lee in a supporting role as Harbour City’s defence department chief. Unfortunately, the female members of the cast, including ostensible leading lady Ning Chang, get side-lined.
In the midst of all that fun, this reviewer did cringe hard at the questionable imagery of downed airliners crashing into a populated city and skyscrapers collapsing. Action movies are meant to have large-scale destruction but this is in particularly poor taste, guys.
That aside, Black And White: The Dawn Of Justice is gleefully ludicrous in its presentation of action movie hijinks. Once you view it as a heightened, comic book-y, cheesy action romp, you’re probably gonna have a good time with it. This is the kind of earnest, overblown popcorn entertainment that doesn’t take itself too seriously but isn’t obnoxious self-parody either, something action junkies haven’t gotten often enough from major Hollywood studios as of late.
Summary: If you’re in the mood for unabashedly silly, not particularly polished but lavish, entertaining action, hop in the cop car with Wu Ying-xiong and Chen Zhen.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars