Saturday, August 28, 2010

Fatal Contact

Fatal Contact feels like a kung fu movie that somebody just broke up with. It just wants to stay home and wallow in self-pity, but due to prior engagements that it can’t get out of it’s forced to venture out into the world and attempt to thrill audiences with its martial arts action.And the frustrating part is, you can see all this potential if it would just get its head out of its ass and stop moping all the goddamn time. It’s like if you just got dumped a week ago, but you still have to go to your friend’s birthday party. You just want to hang back and listen to the songs you played on the jukebox, but somebody’s like, “Hey, you wanna play some Bug Buck Hunter?”And you’re like, “Nah, I’m not really feeling Big Buck Hunter right now. Besides,‘Every Rose Has Its Thorn’ is next.” But they persist, so you begrudgingly play Big Buck Hunter,and what do you know? You have a great time, despite yourself. You’re actually pretty good at it, landing several Double and Triple Buck Bonuses. Exercising your skills takes your mind off your troubles, but then the game ends and you remember that you’re a heartbroken sad-sack sonofabitch, so you go stand in the corner, sipping a beer that tastes like ashes and wondering how you can be surrounded by friends and still be so alone.

That’s what Fatal Contact is like.

(Big Buck Hunter = kung fu in this analogy. Not sure if that was clear.)

What we’re dealing with here is a star vehicle for Yeun Woo-ping protégé Jacky Wu, whom everyone is saying will be the next Jet Li. (There’s even a line in FC where his character explicitly states that as his goal.) Hong Kong—still reeling from the game-changing rise to global dominance of Thai action cinema—desperately needs some new blood, but Wu’s actually been around for a while. I didn’t realize until I checked IMDB that he was the star of the 1996 wirework epic Thai Chi II, one of Master Woo-ping’s last films as a director. The fact that he spent the whole movie rocking the frontal-chrome-dome-with-two-foot-ponytail look might have something to do with that.

Anyway, since Ong Bak made that wire-fu shit look like fucking Cirque du Soleil, Fatal Contact is much more hard-hitting and reality-based than the fanciful Thai Chi II. I really have to give it up for Wu’s skills here. He’s fast as hell(possibly faster than in-his-prime Jet Li, if you can believe it) and he has a knack for sneaking in kicks and punches where you least expect them. This is kung fu that you have to pay close attention to, lest you miss the intricate ballet of blocks, holds, and counter moves. Tony Jaa is still the champ, but this Wu guy is one to watch.

Unfortunately, Fatal Contact is kind of a bummer. Wu plays your typical Jet-esque country bumpkin from the mainland who goes to Hong Kong for a wushu exhibition. He meets this skinny little waif of a girl who hangs out with a lot ofh ookers and gives them advice like “Find an old one and pretend that you’re pitiful.” All she cares about is moneymoneymoney, so she puts the Lady Macbeth mind whammy on Wu and talks him into joining an underground fighting ring. Then some innocence is lost, betrayals are made, etc. Then things get really depressing.

Right from the first frame, this is a dour-ass movie. The score sounds like Grandma’s old tomcat took six or seven steps on a piano keyboard, then keeled over and died. The movie livens up whenever there’s kicking to be done (particularly in a three-on-one fight in which Wu gets torn up by an opponent with rusty nails sticking out of his gloves), but then it goes right back to sulking. This is a movie where people are always gazing mournfully into the middle distance or walking alongside litter-strewn bodies of water for no good reason. You keep having to be like, “Movie! Snap out of it! C’mon, man, it’s not that bad. Look, kicking! You like kicking, right?"

Even outside of the classically shot fight sequences, there are definite moments of awesome to be found. For instance, the villains are all fashion victims who rock bi-colored haircuts that look like furry calico jellyfish or wear stuff like safari hats and shiny gold lamé blazers. And there’s one totally awesome supporting character named “the Captain.” He’s a fast-talking street hustler who does random magic tricks and just happens to be a secret thai chi master. I don’t know how much of this has to do with the poor subtitling, but he speaks a lot of amazing gibberish, like when he starts quoting “We Are The World” and says “We are the ass children.” The movie lights up whenever he’s onscreen, but sadly, he bails right before it reaches its crescendo of self-pity, like a fair-weather friend who’ll drink with you when you’re riding high but conveniently lose your number when you really need him.

I can’t say I really blame him, though. This movie self-destructs in epic fashion in the last 15 minutes, degenerating into such a wallow of overbaked melodrama that you can’t help but laugh. If you really want to know, here’s the deal: Wu’s girlfriend has sold him out to the gangsters who run the underground fighting ring, but he doesn’t know that because he’s a retard. So she pretends to be kidnapped so he’ll throw a fight,which he does, getting his leg broken in like 16 places in the process. Then, while he’s in the hospital, telling her how much he loves her and stuff, she starts feeling all guilty, so she has to walk around a dingy fluorescent-lit hallway six or seven times before she finally just says fuck it and throws herself out the window. That drives Wu insane, so he limps over to the gangsters’ apartment and kills everyone with a butter knife. (Awesome scene, by the way, but what the fuck?) Then, right after the head gangster tells him the truth about his lying girlfriend, he gets shot to death by the cops.

Then we cut to the morgue, where his girlfriend’s corpse suddenly starts crying, prompting the undertaker to say “It’s as if all of the tears of her life came out all at once.” Then there’s a little coda where Wu and his girl are sitting in the grass under the stars, supposedly during happier times, but the bitch still won’t stop talking about money and Wu still doesn’t notice what a shallow cunt she is. Then the movie actually has the nuts to steal the last shot of Citizen fucking Kane by showing the girl’s designer shoes, a symbol of the materialism that spelled her doom, being thrown into a furnace.

Still, even though Fatal Contact is the kung-fu equivalent of Goth yearbook poetry, the fights are pretty amazing, and I have high hopes for Jacky Wu’s next movie. Let’s just hope he picks one that remembers how to have a good time.

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