Starring Peter Ho, Tony Leung Ka-fai, Jia Song, Mickey Ho, Ringo Yu and Wilson Chu
Written by David Wu, Li Xiao-Min
Directed by David Wu
Making a welcome return to Chinese action filmmaking after a long absence working in North American television, frequent John Woo collaborator David Wu brings us Cold Steel. After a very successful showing at Fantasia in Montreal this year, the war-time epic has finally made its Toronto debut thanks to Reel Asian and co-presenter Toronto After Dark. So how does Mr Wu’s Cold Steel stack up to the classic films of Woo’s that he worked on?
In 1938, during the second Sino-Japanese War, Mu Lianfeng (Ho), a 19-year-old orphan, watches an American military plane crash in the forest. Lianfeng comes to the pilot’s rescue and takes him to his village where Liu Yan (Song) has transformed her teashop into a makeshift hospital. As the pilot gradually recuperates, a relationship between the three slowly blossoms. However, when Lianfeng defends Liu Yan against soldiers of the Nationalist army, commander Wu (Xinyu) arrests him. On their way back to base their convoy is attacked by a Japanese sniper who is eventually neutralized by Lianfeng. Impressed, squad leader Zhang Mengzi (Leung Ka-fai) selects him to take part in an assassination mission targeting four Japanese generals. However when nothing goes as planned, Japanese general Massaya (Chu) is infuriated prompting him to send out his best sharpshooters to take down every last one of them.
The strongest part of Cold Steel lies in its action sequences, of which there are tons. Having expert action director and editor Wu behind the lens helps elevate these to things of beauty. The script is goofy with many tongue in cheek gags and situations. Our lead is a goofy, gangly treat with a face a rubber as Jim Carrey as he mugs his way through awkward situations. The love interest is a gorgeous older woman, which could have been a risky choice but it works well in this context. The relationship between Lianfeng and Liu Yan plays out modestly, yet honestly, and helps give Lianfeng’s decisions more weight and gravitas. Chu is way over the top here, in a performance that goes almost entirely cartoon bad guy. This performance and the not so subtle fleecing of the Japanese characters in the film, it is decidedly one-sided, may alienate some. But having the director Wu actually execute the English subtitles himself leads to a lot less confusion and misinterpretation of the humor and dramatic sequences of the film, some of the things that can occasionally get lost in translation.
But as I have said, the real bread and butter are the action sequences. The ambush scene where Lianfeng proves his worth is a tightly directed treat. The final sequence where an entire village is decimated is an explosion bonanza. Throughout the film the bullets zip by with authentic pace and timing, the film does a great job of depicting just how devastating a sniper rifle can be in the right hands. Freely borrowing from films like The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Bourne Ultimatum, director Wu incorporates his own spin on films that have served as inspiration to him over the years. Wu also decides to use practical explosions and effects work to heighten the tension and reality of the film, especially with the intricacies of some of the well-executed stunt work.
A solid action film, not without its issues, Cold Steel offers wall-to-wall action and should be more than enough to please any action fan. Wu proves he is more than ready to step into the spotlight and his next effort should be eagerly anticipated. Cold Steel is a recommend.
Till Next Time,
Movie Junkie TO
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