More noise than signal

The Blacksheep Affair

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

We’ve reviewed a fair amount of foreign stuff here so far, and it’s generally picked up good marks, for the simple reason we don’t go out of our way to see rubbish. There’s quite enough of that at the multiplexes these days. In the interest of balance, we should point out that Hong Kong is equally capable of churning out utter pap. Meet Bi xie lan tian, or The Blacksheep Affair to its friends.

Lavernia. The name conjures up images of rolling hills, or desolate plains, or sprawling urban expanses, or none of the above. For the purposes of this film, it’s a former state of the U.S.S.R. now trying to strike out on its own. For the purposes of this film, it has a small minority population of Asians. For the purposes of this film, none of the natives can tell the Chinese and Japanese apart.

Lavernia, now the home of Chinese military ace Yim Dong (inexplicably called Arthur in the subtitles), attached as guard to the Chinese Embassy after disobeying the direct orders of a superior officer and going after a group of plane hijackers. On arriving, he is met by his old friend and now fellow, well, Ambassadorial Guard, I guess, Hung. Yim is scarcely in the country five minutes before witnessing the murders of four people who are revealed to be Interpol officers. Arthur and buddy chase down the ne’er-do-wells, easily dispatching of the hired lackeys before Yim has a face off with the leader of the pack, later revealed to be Keizo Mishima (Hou Lin).

The fights are clearly vital to an action film of this ilk, and it’s generally the strongest aspect of the film. That’s not to say that they don’t descend into total idiocy at times, with some use of wirework that seems entirely out of place given the context. I’ll buy that they’ve been trained to a decent level, being in the military and all, but towards the end of the movie there’s all manner of super jumps, odd spinning kicks and people being thrown up entire flights of stairs. This just looks silly, and is entirely unnecessary. When remaining within the realms of sensibility, as in this initial bout it is a pretty impressive and dynamic display, with some nice solid looking impacts. The quality control of the choreography seems a little off, as a few of the later battles don’t pack quite the same punch. Overall though, there’s a decent level of decent fisticuffs to be had here.

Keizo turns out to be leader of a religious cult called Red Sun (I think. The plot’s a little thin on the ground and I pretty much tuned out between gunfights / ass-kickings), proclaimed as a new Messiah to end suffering by killing the weak or something. He’s generally considered a crackpot nutjob by Arthur and the rest of his cronies. Keizo is remanded to the Lavernian police custody, which allows us to introduce a not entirely unexpected character – the corrupt police chief.

Yim’s success in his first foray in Lavernia means he is quickly accepted by the Chinese contingent, and to add some spice to the proceedings Arthur swiftly rekindles his relationship with his old randomly appearing girlfriend after an unintentional comical interlude which mainly shows that this script and director combo was never intended to produce works of drama. Chan left China in the wake of the Tiananmen Square massacre, their break-up clumsily shown in flashback as she flees for her life while Arthur dedicates himself to making his country a better place. It’s exceptionally cringe worthy. I’ll grant that the actors used here are more than proficient and convincing in their action capacity, but watching them trying to get across a real emotional depth has the same horrifying fascination of a fish beached on dry land, flopping and floundering and gasping for life.

Of course, Chan plays exactly the vital role common to females in action flicks as clich?d as this; she gets kidnapped and used as a bargaining chip. Our corrupt police friend engineers a fairly pointless Machiavellian plot to rid himself of the Chinese pests and free our Japanese nut-nut by convincing the Ambassador that only the Chinese have the necessary mad-skillz to transport Keizo to the prison from the holding cell. Furthermore they have to do it in an undercover van, an unsecured bakery van to avoid the attentions of Keizo’s army of followers.

The plan to bust Keizo from our Chinese friend’s care is as successful as it is unlikely, involving a great deal of firing rocket propelled grenades at the van containing the poor guy you’re trying to save, apparently on a dead or alive basis. The whole scene involves all manner of car chases, gun battles and bridge diving that makes a fairly decent action scene but makes very little actual sense.

It’s then Keizo decides on a suitable course of revenge, using his army of goons to take over the Chinese embassy. The Ambassador and Chan are captured and held hostage, with the police refusing to take charge of the situation declaring it a matter of Chinese jurisdiction. Thankfully, we have Arthur and Keizo on the case to sort the terrorists out, while the police under the corrupt orders of the corrupt police chief start shooting the fleeing Chinese streaming out of the building in a stupid, stupid scene, apparently referring back to the fact that the Lavenians can’t tell the difference between Chinese and Japanese and assuming they’re terrorists. Cheap angst abounds. Dumb and dumber and dumberer.

The fight inside between Arthur and Keizo is reaching suitably and epically unlikely proportions, as it goes into fanciful superhero-like mode. This is where all manner of wire related trickery is used to have people propelled backward at a rate of knots from supercharged punches, kicks knocking people up entire staircases and people falling off 15ft balconies and getting up without having the decency to be at least mildly inconvenienced by it. The finale somehow manages to build on this stupidity giving an angst drenched finale which is unlikely even by the standards adhered to so far.

There’s all manner of subplots and betrayals involving characters I haven’t mentioned purely because they bored me too much. Obvious in the extreme and sloppy in execution, a plot as brainless as this really ought to be hidden in favour of pretty explosions and fisticuffs if it’s going to be this trite and formulaic.

Possibly, if it had either stuck entirely to its gun-based work or its chop-sockey, this might have turned out a little better. As it’s shown here it’s a horrible mish-mash that does not blend in the slightest. Imagine Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon suddenly intercut with Commando and you end up in the vicinity, although nowhere near the low-rent area The Blacksheep Affair inhabits.

The audio deserves a particular mention in terms of quality, the DVD giving you a choice of Chinese or English tracks that doesn’t work as you may expect, given that both are very badly dubbed. On the English track it’s universal, at least on the Chinese track our Chinese actors are given the dignity of their own voices while our Lavernian fellas ain’t so lucky. Despite speaking in English, as far as my lip-reading knows, they’ve all been redubbed in an amateurish but amusing way. Shame it isn’t a comedy.

Perhaps I’m being a touch harsh on this but it does seem to be a wholly unremarkable film, no different from the low-budget action pap thrown your way from all corners of the world. The abysmal acting and laughably trite dialogue hurt what could have been a passably enjoyable gun battle film, and the wire-fu seems wholly incongruous with everything around it. I’d leave this one on the shelf.