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The Viral Factor or Jik zin (2012)

January 26, 2012 2 comments

Well, I happily sat down to watch this during the Chinese Lunar New Year so, in the necessary spirit of the times, The Viral Factor or Jik zin (2012) was a firecracker of a film. For those of you not familiar with the science behind firecrackers, you should know the manufacturers take a cardboard tube and tightly pack it with gunpowder to ensure the whole thing explodes with the maximum violence and noise. This is not the same as fireworks which are designed to propel very pretty coloured lights into the sky so we can all oooh and aaah in delight.

 

So, if you want to see a film with an amazing number of bullets, RPGs and fists flying while cars chase, helicopters hover and container ships float, this is the film for you because, as the saying goes, this film has all that stuff in spades. The only thing it lacks is a coherent plot and anything approaching self-discipline on the part of the director. Sadly, once Dante Lam gets the bit between his teeth, an action sequence can just go on and on. Indeed, watching the helicopters feels interminable.

Jay Chou and Elaine Jin enjoying a quiet moment toether

 

What, then, should the plot be? It can be summed up in a single sentence. A police officer and his brother take on criminals who want to make a fortune out of selling the vaccine after releasing a new smallpox virus. What do we actually have? Well, dog’s breakfast sums it up. We start off in the Lebanon where a team from the International Security Affairs is to escort a captured rogue scientist to a safe location. Frankly, I had no idea who anyone is nor who I should be watching apart from Jay Chou who’s Jon Wan Fei, one of the grunts. There’s a major police operation but, despite everyone’s best efforts, the scientist is taken away and all the team seems to be killed apart from Jay Chou. Fortunately, he’s only been shot in the head so it’s not a serious injury. Now comes the ultimate cliché. The best surgeons available dare not operate to remove the bullet. It’s touching the thingamagummy in his brain and, if it shifts, he’s a gonner. But fear not, Jay Chou fans, he can walk around for about two weeks but then will spontaneously drop dead. So, minutes after being given the good news, he’s on a plane back home. Except, I may have been wrong about everyone else in the team dying. Perhaps the one that shot Jay Chou in the head was a renegade ISA agent. I’ll come back to that. As a final thought, with RPGs blowing up vehicles and bullets spraying indiscriminately, how does the mastermind ensure his scientist is uninjured? Particularly if the mastermind is one of those guarding him. Grenades and bullets are not discriminating.

Nicholas Tse showing his star firepower

 

Passing quickly on, the emotional hooks have to be planted. We’ve had the dream sequence to start off the film and now Jon’s mother (Elaine Jin) tells him he has a long-lost brother in Malaysia. So, seconds later he’s in another plane — look out for the product placement for the airline but see the adverse message. The plane is inadequately pressurised and the high altitude is pressing the bullet into his thingamagummy. So a friendly doctor (Lin Peng) walks onto the flight-deck (no fear of terrorists on this airline) and they fly a bit lower. See, it’s a caring airline. Tony Fernandez can relax. So by coincidence, this doctor is one of the few people in the world who can manipulate the virus and manufacture the vaccine. From this you will understand the original rogue scientist was killed trying to escape his captors. So the mastermind sends Jon’s brother to kidnap the doctor. You see how the plot just meshes together into one of the most credible ever written. Yes, it’s the good and bad brother tag teaming as Nicholas Tse kidnaps both doctor and head-case at gun point. Not surprisingly, the brothers don’t recognise each other after twenty and more years so they fight and Jay Chou engineers their escape.

Lin Peng and Nicholas Tse

 

It’s at this point we see the pattern emerge. Jay Chou will be battered around the head with fists, metal bars and any other weapons to hand. He will be in car crashes and fall from heights on to his head but the bullet will not move. He will shake himself, perhaps manage a token stagger, maybe even swallow a quick pill, and then run, jump and fight some more. Nicholas Tse proves equally bulletproof (although towards the end, both brothers do put on some kevlar which soaks up everything fired at them apart from a few token scratches on the shoulders and arms). No sense in them taking unnecessary risks. In due course, the brothers are formally introduced and there’s the missing dad (Kai Chi Liu) and cute daughter. We now have all the elements to mix and match hostages, and for the big emotional ending when we get to see the meaning of the original dream. It’s intended as a real tearjerker. Add in Andy On, Carl Ng (I gave up caring which one was the renegade ISA agent — suffice it to say it doesn’t matter) and Anthony Sandstrom as an international gunrunner, and you have a high-profile international cast to widen the distribution potential for what has been an expensive production. Some of the dialogue is shot in English and some in Malay to run alongside the Cantonese. It’s hilariously ironic the Cantonese need subtitles in a film made by one of their own.

The real star of the film — the virus

 

On paper, this was a great film. Although I’m mocking the lack of plot, both Jay Chou and Nicholas Tse come out of it quite well. They are not required to show a great emotional range but they smile and snarl on command, and both look good as action heroes. Taken individually, the action scenes are of a high standard. They do go on too long but they look good. Kuala Lumpur also looks good and much less stagey than in other films (only a brief glimpse of the Petronas Tower). If all this had been put in aid of a coherent plot, it would have been a fabulous way of spending the Lunar New Year. As it was, The Viral Factor or Jik zin was like watching a bomb explode and leave a smoking crater.

 

Other films by Nicholas Tse:
The Beast Stalker or Ching Yan (2008)
The Bullet Vanishes or Xiao shi de zi dan (2012)
Storm Warriors or Fung wan II (2009)
Treasure Inn or Cai Shen Ke Zhan (2011)

 

The Beast Stalker or Ching Yan or 证人 (2008)

The Beast Stalker or Ching Yan or 证人 shows Hong Kong at its best and worst. It’s directed and jointly written by Dante Lam, the other scriptwriting credit going to Ng Wai Ling. At its heart, there’s a simple story of a serious criminal who orders the kidnap of the prosecuting lawyer’s daughter and instructs her to destroy the DNA evidence that would lead to his conviction. Needless to say, this whole plot depends on the lawyer not disclosing the kidnap and being willing to go to jail for obstructing justice — a fate that would separate her from her daughter in any event.

 

Well, always start with a bang, so they say, and this film is no exception. There’s a police raid planned by Sergeant Tong Fei (Nicholas Tse) to arrest Cheung, a major criminal wanted for a number of crimes including robbery and murder. The team divides into three and each group is supposed to co-ordinate their entry into the premises to capture the target. Unfortunately Michael (Derek Kwok Jing-Hung), leading one of the teams is late in breaking through a door and there’s a shooting with Sun (Liu Kai-Chi) narrowly escaping serious injury. Nevertheless, they capture Cheung who’s almost immediately rescued from police custody. Tong and Sun take off in pursuit. There’s a bad crash at a traffic junction, disabling all three vehicles involved. The criminals see another vehicle parked by the kerb. It belongs to a prosecuting lawyer, Ann / Gao Min (Zhang Jingchu) who’s standing beside it arguing with her estranged husband on her mobile phone. With Ann knocked to the ground, her car is driven away. Tong emerges from the wreckage of his vehicle and starts shooting. The fusillade of shots brings this second getaway car crashing to a halt. When the boot is opened, Tong discovers he has accidentally shot a little girl. The criminals found her on the back seat when they took the car and stuffed her inside the boot as they drove away. Cheung is in a coma. He’s rearrested but, after three months, he’s fit to be tried.

Nicholas Tse and Liu Kai-Chi on the trial of the kidnapper

 

We now enter the parallel dimension of coincidence. The prosecuting lawyer was the one standing by the kerb as Cheung took her car. The decision of the Hong Kong prosecuting authorities to allow her to continue in the case is therefore bizzare. Prosecutors must be seen to be dispassionate, yet she has every reason to manufacture evidence to ensure the conviction of the man indirectly responsible for the death of her daughter. At one level this is a wholly unnecessary complication. A plot to kidnap the child of a prosecutor would stand just as well with someone unconnected with the case. Ah, but the scriptwriters have a darker game to play. Our hero, Sergeant Tong, never formally returned to work, spending the three months trying to come to terms with his guilt. One of the ways in which he has passed the time is in befriending the dead girl’s sister, Ling (Wong Suet-yin). Indeed, Tong is at the school watching over her (he’s not the titular beast stalker, you understand) when the kidnap occurs. He’s knocked unconscious and the kidnapper, Hung Jing (Nick Cheung Ka-Fai) escapes. Now Tong has the emotional burden of having killed one daughter and failed to protect the other.

Zhang Jingchu as Ann deciding how loyal she is as a prosecutor

 

Although he has not been the best of squad leaders, Tong has retained the loyalty of those in the team. Even Michael (his cousin) who messed up, forgives him and they all agree to help him find the girl without formally alerting the police about the kidnapping. We therefore have the mother who’s pressured to taint the DNA evidence that will convict the villain. Then there’s the kidnapper. He’s losing his sight and trying to look after his wife Li (Miao Pu) who’s been injured. She’s incapable of speech, bedridden, and wholly dependent on Hung Jing to care for her. Tong and Sun, his main man who was injured in the original chase and now carrying a permanent leg injury, are now on the job. With Michael’s help to tap Ann’s mobile phone, they identify the city block where the girl is probably hidden. It’s now reached an interesting point.

 

This is a story about guilt and how you deal with it. Here’s a mother who would never have lost her first daughter if she had not stopped the car to argue with her husband on the phone. Although the policeman “innocently” pulled the trigger, she’s the “but for” cause of her daughter’s death. She cannot sleep at nights, blaming herself. Here’s a cop who feels so guilty at the mess he presided over, it’s as much as he can do to stop himself from committing suicide. Amazingly, there’s no internal investigation into this catastrophic sequence of events. No-one seems to want to consider whether Tong should be tried for manslaughter or suffer any kind of penalty. He’s just left on his own for three months.

Nick Cheung and Nicholas Tse fight for the gun

 

As to the kidnapper, Hung Jing, he’s also carrying a burden of guilt. In another completely unnecessary backstory, the scriptwriters decided that, if the other main characters are feeling guilty, Hung Jing should not be excused. I find this deeply annoying. In my own culture, this is everegging the pudding. It’s adding a contrivance in the form of a coincidence. Simply having him as a professional killer dragooned into a kidnapping would have been sufficient. Weighting him down with all this backstory is trying too hard to improve on an interconnected plot that’s already overly complex.

Dennis Kwok proving surprising loyal in helping out his cousin

 

As to the ending, the chase and fight goes on too long and, although the existing relationship between the policeman and the kidnapped girl does add a element, enabling him to encourage her and get results, it all drags with an overflow of self-pity from the two adult men involved. In the worst sense, it’s all terribly melodramatic and hammy.

 

So The Beast Stalker or Ching Yan or 证人 is good in part and, if you are inclined to take a benign view of an average Hong Kong thriller, it’s a not unenjoyable way of passing almost two hours.

 

For the record, Nick Cheung won the Best Actor in the Golden Horse Awards 2009 and the 15th Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards and the 28th Hong King Film Awards. Liu Kai-Chi won the Best Supporting Actor in the 28th Hong King Film Awards.

 

Other films by Nicholas Tse:
The Bullet Vanishes or Xiao shi de zi dan (2012)
Storm Warriors or Fung wan II (2009)
Treasure Inn or Cai Shen Ke Zhan (2011)

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