DVD Review: Fatal Contact
Fatal Contact is a starring vehicle for rising Hong Kong martial arts star Jacky Wu Jing, who made an impact on a lot of fans with his breakout role as the right hand man of gang boss Sammo Hung in S.P.L. (aka Kill Zone). He barely has any lines in that film (but it's a kung fu movie after all, so that hardly matters), but his fight scenes in that film, particularly his dustup with Donnie Yen near the end, immediately got him attention, including the inevitable "next Jet Li" mantle that’s been worn by many would-be martial arts stars since, well, Jet Li. As much as calling anyone "the next" anything is automatically cliché (and almost always dooms that person to never live up to that standard), Jing is damn impressive. He's as fast as almost anyone I've seen in a martial arts movie (though in Hong Kong they often speed them up in postproduction, so really, what do I know), and insanely athletic. Fatal Contact is a great showcase for his considerable abilities, but as a movie – even a kung fu movie – the story is weak and doesn't really hold water.
Wu Jing plays a mainland Chinese martial artist in a travelling Beijing Opera troupe passing through Hong Kong. A crew of gangsters take in a performance one night, and afterwards offer him a handful of cash to participate in an underground fight. Being a fresh-faced country rube, Jing refuses. Naturally, that's not the end of things (a look at the box cover will tell you that), as after a female friend he seems to kinda-sorta have a crush on (though she seems to like money a bit more than him) basically tells him to stop being so naïve and take the payday, he shows up and annihilates his first opponent. Before long, Jing's country boy has been sucked into the seedy world of underground boxing, demolishing just about anyone the gangsters put him in the ring with. Naturally it doesn't take long before Jing learns about the dark side of his new livelihood (turns out the fights aren't always fair…crazy, I know).
The story in Fatal Contact is nothing special; as I explained in my Flash Point review, the plot of a martial arts movie is largely beside the point (though a good one, as in the case of Flash Point, certainly helps). Indeed, Fatal Contact is also a nice little throwback to old-school '80s kung fu movies that, before S.P.L., Hong Kong didn't seem to make anymore. Just about every plot development here can be seen by anyone who's seen a movie before coming a mile away, but that's not really the problem. When Jing's character falls in with a penny-pinching would-be con artist assigned to keep an eye on him by the gangsters (Ronald Cheng, who apparently is a comic actor with no martial arts training, but he had me fooled) and then realizes he’s a kung fu master himself, it recalls the old kung fu movie archetype of the sleazy drunken kung fu master, a beloved trope of the genre.
The fights in Fatal Contact are lots of fun, and there are plenty of them (in the extras Jing estimates he has 10 fights in the film). Wu Jing is an absolute blast to watch when it's time to do his thing, leaping off walls, spinning and kicking people two or three times in the time it takes you or I to blink. The problem is the story. Wu Jing's character only gets involved in the underground fighting circuit because his ladyfriend (I'd call her his girlfriend but I don't think they so much as kiss) tells him he should. When he starts to realize he's maybe getting in over his head, there's nothing actually keeping him there other than the fact that she keeps telling him she likes guys with money. This establishes that 1) she's a selfish, money-grubbing con artist who looks at him as a meal ticket and 2) for a badass fighter, he's pretty much spineless. I get the feeling director Dennis Law was going for some moral ambiguity with her character, but instead she’s just fundamentally unlikeable. (She also talks her best friend – a sweet girl who at the beginning of the film urges Jing not to get into underground fighting – into prostitution.) All this undermines the romance that's clearly meant to drive the plot, and because Jing's character is basically only doing the underground fighting thing because she told him it would be swell if he did, the central conflict of the film feels manufactured and false. Which, again, for a martial arts movie is not the worst thing, but the story requires Jing's character to give a shit about what's happening to her long after we’ve been shown that she’s ready to screw him over at the drop of a hat, and her “redemption” is supposed to be that she starts to feel bad for using him. Worst of all, the ending (which I won't spoil) is needlessly depressing, so dark that it sticks out like the proverbial sore. Its grimness is totally unearned, and really left me with a sour taste in my mouth.
Fatal Contact has some excellent fight sequences and is a great little diversion for fans of martial arts movies, but anyone looking for a more complete action movie experience should check out Flash Point or Kill Zone for contemporary kung fu done right.
It’s been a while since I've encountered a “two-disc ultimate edition” DVD that was so undeserving of a second disc. The only somewhat interesting extra is the commentary track, with director Dennis Law and Dragon Dynasty regular Bey Logan. Law’s English isn’t great, but he and Logan have a friendly tone that helps the commentary flow nicely. He even jokingly gives Logan hard time for his repeated mentions of other Dragon Dynasty releases (“this is like a commercial!”) It’s really only of interest to fans of Hong Kong cinema, but there are some interesting nuggets of information in there.
The rest of the extras are mostly fluffy promotional stuff. There’s an interview with Wu Jing that runs just over 20 minutes in which he talks about researching his role, training, kicking a stuntman in the neck by accident and knocking him out during filming, and being knocked out himself in a different take (“It was a wonderful feeling" . . . gotta admire his commitment to his craft).
Aside from that, there’s nothing particularly fascinating here. There’s also a 30-minute interview with the director, in which he describes the origins of the film (it started off as a story about a hooker who falls for her pimp, then he falls for her and has pangs of guilt about using her; he just swapped the characters’ genders and made it about underground boxing instead of prostitution and bang, instant kung fu movie). He also was consciously trying to evoke the feeling of old-school fighting video games, particularly the Street Fighter II (classic!), which isn’t the kind of thing I’m used to directors admitting to, but I appreciated the reference.
Beyond that there are short interviews with the two female co-stars, and as they’re both pop starlets first (in the same nine-piece girl group, no less; turns out the band’s manager also manages Wu Jing) and actresses second, their interviews almost put me to sleep. Finally there’s something called ‘Life Is A Contact Sport: Behind The Scenes of Fatal Contact,’ which I took to be a making-of featurette, but it’s just 30 minutes of Wu Jing training. Pretty underwhelming.
Overall this is a pretty weak DVD package for a decent kung fu movie. I appreciate Dragon Dynasty piling on the extras, but Fatal Contact is a movie that doesn’t really warrant them.
Labels: Asian cinema, Dragon Dynasty, DVD review, martial arts