Fantasia 2012 – Cold Steel Review (Matt Hodgson)

Fantasia Film Festival 2012

Cold Steel (2011)

Starring Peter Ho, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Jia Song, Micky Ho, and Ringo Yu

Directed by David Wu

Up until my Saturday afternoon screening of Cold Steel, I had yet to see anything at Fantasia that I had loved. I had of course been wowed, seen some great action, experienced some side splitting humour, but I hadn’t seen a feature film that captivated me for the entire run-time – until Cold Steel that is. Perhaps I should have anticipated that Cold Steel would be a hit. After all, it was written, directed, and edited by David Wu, the editor of one of my personal favourites in Brotherhood of the Wolf, but more importantly John Woo’s editor of choice who has worked on A Better Tomorrow, Bullet in the Head, and a little film called Hard Boiled. Cold Steel is action-packed, intelligent, and charming as hell. Now let me tell you why.

Cold Steel tells the story of a young hunter named Mu Lianfeng (Ho), a simple 19-year old man from a small village in 1938 China whose life takes a strange turn as he narrowly avoids a crashing plane from his treetop perch while hunting for boar in the forest. Having barely escaped with his life, Lianfeng approaches the site of the crash and has another close encounter with death as he rescues an American soldier from the wreck just before it explodes. Lianfeng takes the American to his small village, where Liu Yan (Jia Song) has made a makeshift hospital in her tea house. As the American heals he teaches the eager and gun-loving Lianfeng how to master and respect firearms. However, the story takes a deadly serious turn after the American leaves the small town and Liu Yan’s teahouse and staff become the target of abuse by some soldiers on a power-trip. Lianfeng gallantly saves the day, but at the cost of his freedom. He is lead out of town, presumably to jail, but the group of soldiers transporting him are ambushed by Japanese soldiers. Unexpectedly Lianfeng saves the day, single-handedly killing the group of attackers with a sniper rifle. Lianfeng is then given a choice, become a soldier and fight the Japanese or die.

Cold Steel has so much going for it that it’s difficult to summarize it in just a paragraph or two. Adapted by David Wu from a novel that caught his attention, the heart of the story is really about love, passion and obligation. Love for a partner, passion for a interest, and obligation towards a career or nation, these are the things that could make a young man like Lianfeng feel emotionally ripped to pieces and Cold Steel showcases this inner turmoil to perfection. Ho’s performance as Lianfeng is one of the most charismatic in years, it’s impossible not to feel for him as he discovers just how cruel and final life-choices can be. His penchant for parroting lines of advice given to him by people with much more world experience provided plenty of light-hearted moments which gave the audience the perfect break from the serious subject matter of the film. The rest of the cast support Ho very nicely, with Jia Song delivering a particularly convincing performance as Ho’s war-scarred love interest.

The action sequences are top-notch with many of the battles taking place at long distance, as the weapon of choice for Lianfeng is a sniper rifle, but the battles also get up close and personal. Even though Cold Steel is technically a war film, it doesn’t feel grisly like many others, as Lianfeng and his fellow soldiers are often sent on missions in enemy territory. The action scenes do not often depict the atrocities of war as in most other war films, and this is a refreshing change. Wu’s excellent and all-permeating sense of humour can even be found in the action sequences. Wu also demonstrates his competitive filmmaking spirit as one particular shot of Ho intentionally outdoes the incredible shot from the Bourne Identity series in which Matt Damon jumps off a roof and crashes through a window.

There isn’t much to say negatively about Cold Steel. Perhaps some of the imagery, particularly of a dying boar, could have been less blatant at times and credited the audience with more intelligence, but this is an issue with many films it seems. Also, there are only two Japanese characters in the entire film that even remotely resemble human beings, but I will be the first to admit that I don’t know enough about Japanese – Chinese relations throughout history and particularly during the time that this film is set in, and I probably never will.

In the end, Cold Steel is a remarkable film and the welcome return of David Wu to Chinese cinema. The only thing sharper than Lianfeng’s sight as he gazes down the scope of his rifle is the filmmaking and storytelling acumen of David Wu. Edge of your seat action, an intelligent self-awarness, charming humour, and a truly touching story, Cold Steel is a real winner. Don’t pass this one up, make it a point to see Cold Steel, you won’t regret it.

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