With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

SPECIAL ID debuts today on Blu-ray and DVD from Well Go USA

Well Go USA
Special ID / Te shu shen fen
Directed by Clarence Fok Yiu-leung
China, 2013, 99 minutes

Special ID, is a rip-roaring action film directed by Clarence Fok (Snakeheads, Together, but perhaps best known in the West for 1992's classic Naked Killer) and stars Donnie Yen (The Monkey King, Ip Man, Ip Man 2, and oh so many others). It debuts today, Tuesday, May 13th on Blu-ray (which I watched for this review) and DVD from Well Go USA.

In a nutshell, Special ID is a WINNER! Donnie plays undercover detective Chen Zilong who is known in the criminal underworld he's infiltrated as "Dragon" Chen. There's lots of suspicion, distrust and betrayal going on, as one might expect in this kind of film. Chief among the culprits are gang leader Xiong (Colin Chou, of the Matrix films and Badges of Fury) and Chen's former protégé Sonny (Andy On, Mad Detective, That Demon Within)

There are action sequences a-plenty, very fine ones as far as I'm concerned. Lots of fisticuffs as well as a nicely done car chase in which Volvos are prominently featured. (China's Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd. completed its purchase of Ford Motor Co's Volvo unit in August 2010.) That car chase culminates in the climactic one-on-one battle between Chen and Sonny.

"Dragon" Chen faces off some baddies

With Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan and Jet Li in the "aging out" process, "Donnie the Prince" is becoming "Donnie the King" of Chinese action movies. His role here is somewhat similar to Tony Leung's in John Woo's Hard Boiled. In fact, Special ID's action scenes have the intensity of Woo's old "bullet ballets" but with fists, elbows, knees and feet instead of guns. Also without the slow mo' and white doves.

The film brought to mind some of the other great Hong Kong films of the 1990s, including Jackie Chan's Police Story series. I make these comparisons in the most respectful way. Whether or not Fok intended to hint at that golden age of Honk Kong actioners, I found it very enjoyable to experience once again the awesomely satisfying feeling that came from watching those great films.

For me, though, the real revelation was Yen's considerably improved acting. He's tended to be very restricted, limited, and emotionless in his film roles, but in Special ID he exhibits heretofore unseen tics, gestures and expressions that really bring his character to life. Very nice to see this evolution taking place; hopefully he'll continue to evolve in that regard.

Mainland police officer Fang Jing (Tian Jing, center)

Lovely Tian Jing (The Warring States, Police Story 2013) is fine looking as Fang Jing, a Mainland cop who's at loggerheads with Chen. She does surprisingly well in the action scenes, and did many of her own stunts. Her delicate bone structure does make her physical toughness a bit far-fetched. (Her arms are so thin that she reminded me of Phoebe, the character with "avian bone syndrome" in the television show 30 Rock.) No matter; she's perfectly fine in the role and provides a welcome respite from the abundant testosterone with which the film is imbued.

Special ID is one helluva fine actioner. Thanks to Well Go USA for bringing yet another terrific Asian film to North American fans. Seeing it is guaranteed to satisfy your "action Jones."

ACF Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars; very highly recommended.