Although writer/director Dennis Law’s lifeless 2008 Sammo Hung actioner Fatal Move began its cinematic life cycle as a prequel to the insanely entertaining Wilson Yip gangster pic SPL (aka Kill Zone), the end result, unfortunately, is light years away from its highly ambitious origins. That’s not to say that the film is a complete and utter wash, mind you, but it’s certainly not the greatest Hong Kong genre picture you’ll see this year. In fact, Fatal Move eclipses a large portion of the Asian action output I’ve consumed recently, including Law’s previous effort Fatal Contact, a picture yours truly can’t quite seem to finish. Of course, that’s a completely separate set of complaints altogether. One thing at a time, right?
Fatal Move stars Hong Kong legends Sammo Hung and Simon Yam as a pair of professional triad heavyweights dealing with the ins and outs of the Chinese gangster business. All of the cinematic cliches which accompany this sort of generic storyline are accounted for: problems with the local police department, betrayal by those you consider to be your closest companions, tough decisions regarding in-family assassinations — if you’ve seen it before, chances are you’re about to see it again. However, despite the plot’s ultra-simplistic design, Law and company have constructed a truly puzzling and hypnotically illogical set of circumstances, none of which seem to fit together in the grand scheme of things. By the time the grossly melodramatic conclusion limps pathetically before your tired eyes, Fatal Move and all of its silly little problems will have either bored you to tears or danced rudely upon your last nerve.
Despite boasting an impressive stable of critically acclaimed Hong Kong actors, It’s the film’s collection of tired, stale, and downright uninspired performances that ultimately bring the script’s gaggle of flubs and flaws to the proverbial light. Had Hung, Yam, Danny Lee, Jacky Wu Jing, and Niu Tien actually cared about the material, perhaps these criticisms wouldn’t be quite as noticeable. After all, attempting to breathe a little life into flat, uninteresting characters always helps smooth out the rough spots, especially when you’re dealing with scenarios which are painfully familiar to just about anyone who’s spent a few hours with other like-minded outings. Everyone here is weak and wimpy and, apparently, just as bored with the production as I was. Mediocrity does not an interesting motion picture make.
Hardcore action fanatics seeking shallow situations mixed with an abundance of high-octane set pieces should be moderately entertained for the duration. That said, what we’re given to digest is few and far between, separated by enormous chasms of worthless dialogue that does little to advance the story or create sympathy for these truly unlikeable characters. What’s worse is that most of these hyper-violent sequences are mired in bargain basement special effects, the sort of low-grade CGI that instantly pulls you out of the action and shatters the suspension of disbelief. Watching Jacky Wu severe hands and arms and legs isn’t much fun when the effects appear to have been assembled on a Playstation 2 in someone’s spare time. If that wasn’t enough to sour your experience, the fight choreography is often dull and flaccid; think Charlie’s Angels without the female jiggle. I wish I were kidding.
In fact, the only remotely fascinating aspect of Fatal Move is the final confrontation between Sammo Hung and Jacky Wu, a fight that has been long-awaited by those of us who follow such things. And while the showdown is somewhat thrilling on a purely visceral level, the context in which it takes place is purely ridiculous and apropos of nothing whatsoever. It’s an afterthought, a last-minute addition to keep you from turning off the movie and venturing off to greener pastures. If this aspect of the picture is the only thing that captures your interest, search for it on YouTube and save yourself two hours of lackluster thrills.
For casual viewers with little to no interest in Asian cinema, Fatal Move is a bust. With all the other action-oriented options available to you at the moment, there’s really no reason to waste your oh-so precious time with something as run-of-the-mill as this. Of course, if you’re a Sammo Hung and/or Jacky Wu completist, you may actually want to experience the questionable pleasure that generally accompanies throwing away your hard-earned dollars for one mildly intense battle royale between two cherished Hong Kong actors. A quick word of advice: If you plan to order Fatal Move from any on-line retailer, make sure you’re purchasing the uncut Hong Kong version of the film. From what I understand, a few versions floating around out there have been cut to ribbons, robbing you of the only reason to watch this otherwise forgettable little picture.
All apologies to Sammo Hung.