More noise than signal

So Close

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

Corey Yeun has been the mind behind many of the most memorable chop sockey sequences in motion picture history, either as fight choreographer or second unit director for Hollywood flicks like X-Men or The One or his own directorial efforts such as the two superb Legend of Fong Sai Yuk movies. Directly before decamping to Hollywood to churn out the pulp actioner The Transporter (shortly to receive a barely necessary sequel) he was responsible for Chik yeung tin sai or So Close, the latest in a ‘girls with guns’ sub-genre that stretches back past Naked Killer and Black Angel and was the probably inspiration for exhuming Charlies’ Angels. This Carpenters-centric slant on the action genre provides a suitable amount of style but an uneven spread of adrenaline, resulting in an enjoyable but utterly unmemorable experience.

Lynn (the inestimable Qi Shu) and Sue (Zhao Wei, who you may recall from Shaolin Soccer) two happy go lucky, fun loving sisters that happen to be top assassins. Well, Lynn is at least, Sue staying back in the home office environment driving a desk chock full of Future Technology Four. A parting gift from their murdered parents, they can tap into any CCTV camera, security system, computer system or teasmaid. Useful when you want to penetrate the tight security of a firm of ‘legitimate businessman’ in their skyscraper built on a foundation of drug money and distilled evil. This point is bludgeoned over the viewer’s head early doors to facilitate having killers as heroes.

Still, this line of work will attract attention from the Feds, in this case ace forensics officer Hong Yat Hong (Karen Mok) and her assistant Ma Siu Ma (Michael Wai). It seems that they might not have much of an opportunity to track them down, with Lynn soppily deciding to pursue a course of true love with Yen (Seung-heon Song) instead. Seeing as this limits the scope for gunplay and car chases, it comes as something of a relief to find out that Sue decides to accept and execute another job against the same firm. While successful, two disparate spanners appear in the works as Hong gets close enough in her investigation to have a high kicking showdown and Sue’s employers decide to tidy up some loose ends by eliminating Lynn and Sue’s operations

Mix in the aforementioned criminals deciding that Hong is far too competent to be sniffing around and fitting her up for the patented crime she did not commit and we’ve got the common or garden cop ‘n’ robber unlikely teaming scenario to take on a shared and significantly more evil foe. A tried and tested formula more or less since the invention of stories in 1949 by Dr. Kevin Story. This variant in particular screams out John Woo.

Yes, yes, it’s a disgusting shorthand to start comparing any action flick, Asian ones in particular to the Woo-meister’s early output but in this case it’s disgustingly valid, missing only the Overly Symbolic Birds™ to write this off as The Killer with chicks. That said, it doesn’t match the 1989 classic’s levels of adrenaline, excitement and bodies rent asunder in hailstorms of lead salad but at points it does approach it. Just not at quite enough points.

Yuen gives us a stylish opening quarter of an hour odds, with a suitable number of ‘pacifications’ of goons and a few mildly innovative wirework stunts and kung fu to hook most of the audience I’d imagine, even if there is an intentionally but no less bizarrely incongruous Carpenters soundtrack moment. Perhaps one thing Yuen should have stole from The Matrix, gunfights in a lobby to the Propellerhead’s Spybreak – acceptable; to Close to you (That song about suddenly appearing birds) – less so.

Sadly it all goes a bit Pete Tong for the next, oooh, hourish as everything switches onto autopilot. The brief spurt of action is followed by a long, drawn out expanse where little quantifiable happens. Characters fail to develop in any meaningful way, which I’m not particularly bothered about in mindless action movies, but in terms of pacing it ruins the movie. The odd minor chase between Sue and Hong and the attendant lesbian subplot (which if it wasn’t so barely present as to barely warrant mentioning would probably be exploitative) there’s typically nothing much worth reporting on until the all out action finale that for once can’t be described as balls to the wall, given the participants

The closing scenes are really rather enjoyable indeed, a masterful blend of kung-fu, shooty shooty bang bangs and even a sword-wielding finale, not to be confused with a more conceptually disappointing sword-welding finale. In a technical sense it’s all very polished and accomplished, as well practised as you might expect from someone with Yuen’s pedigree. There’s a few slightly pony virtual sets sneaked in and a questionable CG shattering glass effect that someone’s clearly fond of, showing up numerous times with minimal subtlety but we can excuse that. After all, despite being one of the more meatily budgeted Asian outings of recent times it’s still produced on the kind of cash that wouldn’t cover the catering budget on the likes of Troy.

Wether you care much about their eventual, inevitable victory (oh come now, it was never in any doubt) is another matter entirely, and more than likely you won’t. The bad guys in this flick are the largely faceless Chow Nunn (Siu-Lun Wan) and his slightly more distinctive lieutenant, but the very fact that the movie can be adequately summed up without even mentioning their names speaks volumes. You won’t care much when these chaps buy the farm, because you really don’t know any more about them than you do their legions of goons.

No, the point of this film and the main focus of this film is the headlining female triumvirate, which meets with more success. Qi Shu’s confidence and grace during the action scenes is a joy to watch, although the unfolding family tension with Zhao Wei is hampered by a script that’s not far from Sunset Beach quality. Karen Mok gets to have a little fun with her quirky outsider cop routine before focusing on ass kicking, but no one’s going to be watching this with the dramatic elements in mind.

Like all action movies it lives and dies by its excitement levels and despite the blistering pace of the last half hour leaving a good last impression, in the harsh light of day the pacing is too patchy to truly recommend it. Perhaps a little harsh, given that five years or so ago we’d have lapped this up and even on it’s 2002 release it wasn’t too far off the pace, but time marches on and the bar has been raised since So Close took its shot. I’ve marked this film a little more favourably as I’ve a weakness for pretty women diving around with handguns. Anyone less shallow than I should adjust accordingly.

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