The movie ‘Fatal Contact’ of Wu Jing instead turns out to be dark and even punishing

Shocker alert: Ronald Cheng doesn’t ruin Fatal Contact (Other name: VO DAI DEN). In fact, the sometimes maligned funnyman pretty much steals the show, and may even be the best thing about the film. Cheng plays the “Captain”, a dopey low-level triad assigned to take care of Kong (Wu Jing), the new star fighter on the underground boxing circuit.

After last year’s SPL, Wu Jing became the odds-on pick for Hong Kong martial arts movie superstardom. Jackie Chan is aging, Jet Li is retiring (yeah, right), Zhao Wen-Zhou never quite made it, and Donnie Yen is, well, Donnie Yen. Fans of nuts-and-bolts martial arts action need a new hero, and Wu Jing’s combination of likability and actual martial arts skills makes him seem like the obvious choice.

Apparently, director Dennis Law and Gold Label megaproducer Paco Wong thought so too, lining up Wu Jing to star in Fatal Contact – arguably Wu’s first starring role in a Hong Kong movie since Tai Chi 2 back in 1996 (Wu Jing also starred in 2003’s Drunken Monkey, but that was more of an ensemble piece than a solo work). Law and Wong have also given Wu a partner: Ronald Cheng, best known for his over-the-top antics in such films as Dragon Loaded 2003 and Himalaya Singh. Could Cheng potentially ruin Wu Jing’s bid for martial arts cinema greatness?

Shocker alert: Ronald Cheng doesn’t ruin Fatal Contact. In fact, the sometimes maligned funnyman pretty much steals the show, and may even be the best thing about the film. Cheng plays the “Captain”, a dopey low-level triad assigned to take care of Kong (Wu Jing), the new star fighter on the underground boxing circuit. Kong is a martial arts champion on China’s national team, who’s touring Hong Kong when he’s spot by triad bastard Ma (Eddie Cheung). Ma wants Kong to fight for him in underground boxing matches, but Kong says no because, well, it’s illegal and it could get him kick off the Chinese team.

However, Kong does a 180 when he’s urged to try illegal boxing by Siu Tin (Miki Yeung of Cookies), a sweet girl who admires Kong’s way with his fists.

Kong admires Miki’s toothy smile and leggy way of wearing her shorts, so he joins up and automatically becomes the toast of the underground circuit. He begins earning serious bank, which gets routinely inflat by Siu Tin’s negotiation tactics.

But problems arise in Kong’s journey through the dark side of boxing. Kong may be a skill fighter, but he’s also more of a showman than a down-and-dirty brawler. Noticing his lack of killer instinct, Captain begins tutoring him in the finer points of being a meaner fighter. Meanwhile, hanging out with triads means contact with lots of bad stuff. Siu Tin and Kong’s pal Tsuichi (Theresa Fu, also of Cookies) shows up at some of Kong’s matches, but her life has descend into prostitution, a fact that irks Siu Tin to no end.

Also, Kong’s challengers begin to improve in both skill and willingness to use chicanery. After a while, exposure to such seedy people and circumstances starts to take its toll on Kong. Luckily, he has Siu Tin’s love, and Captain’s friendship to help him along. With his support group behind him, Kong should be able to make a killing then return to his life as a national champion, right?

Wrong. Getting involve in illegal activities means that Kong can pretty much kiss his government sponsorship goodbye, and that’s not the end to the bad stuff going on in this film. The presence of Ronald Cheng and a couple of Cookies would seem to signal a lightweight time at the movies, but Fatal Contact instead turns out to be dark and even punishing. Kong and Siu Tin begin to sink further into an illegal, amoral world, and the effects take their toll.

Siu Tin, whose love for Kong initially seems tempere by material desire, soon graduates from practical money-minder to full-on golddigger.

Her cynical values can best be seen in her relationship with Tsuichi. Which is reveal in long dialogue exchanges between the two Cookies where one admonishes the other for letting her life go to crap. The lesson dispens is basically to be harder and smarter, and make all the money you need while you can.

That opportunism, however, is not necessarily a positive thing. Pragmatism is all well and good, but getting involve with bad people and illegal things can send you straight to hell – and eventually. That’s the lesson that Fatal Contact seems to be forcing upon us. Wasn’t this suppose to be a fun movie?

Well, it is, though only in doses.

The fighting certainly is fun, and serves up enough creative choreography and painful. That impact to warrant the film a partial recommendation. Li Chung-Chi’s action is ground and mostly free of wires. And that is certainly a step up from the overly-choreograph ballet-type stuff typifying most Asian Cinema of late. Wu Jing brings power and poise to the action sequences, and easily convinces the audience of his ability to kick ass.

The big surprise is Ronald Cheng, who handles his few fight scenes with a surprising agility. Cheng is also the comedy relief, but his character isn’t just a wacky sidekick. Captain is a hidden martial arts master, meaning that. He dispenses both the wisecracks and the sage wisdom, frequently in the same scenes. It’s an odd mix, as Fatal Contact is more of an action drama than an action comedy, and when Cheng is onscreen, it’s practically like he’s in a different film. But his character is fun and charismatic, and easily the audience favorite. Who doesn’t like a cheerfully sardonic martial arts master who remains upbeat even in the face of murder and other evil acts? Basically, the film builds to a point where you just want Cheng to cut loose and take down people in a blaze of righteous comic fury.

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