Few films can stand up to the amount of anticipation that I and many others had for "So Close". The prospect of three hot asian actresses, one of them being our one and only favorite Shu Qi, getting it on - hightech style - in the hands of acclaimed action director Corey Yuen was just too much to handle. After a very long waiting period, it's finally here. Thus the question presents itself: just how good a movie is "So Close" really? Well, there's good news, and bad news... The good news: "So Close" does have some spectacular action scenes that will blow you away, and leave you pulling your hair out in utter amazement. The bad news: In between these scenes the story seems overly familiar, and a bit too simple and clean for it's own good. The good news: The three leading ladies are all sexy, cute and cool. The bad news: Everyone else in the movie struggles to make an impact, and none of them succeeds. The good news: The film is easily accessible to anyone not familiar with Hong Kong cinema. The bad news: The film is easily accessible to anyone not familiar with Hong Kong cinema. In other words, it lacks the Hong Kong touch in more than one scene.
The action scenes are fantastic. The opening scene seems like it's choreographed by a God. Shu Qi glides around unhindered by physical reality, with the graze of a swan, and the the sting of a scorpion. The scene, accompanied by The Carpenters "Close to You", reminds me of the loft shootout in "Face/Off", or the scene where Chow Yun Fat eliminates his competition in "A Better Tomorrow", with the help of hidden weapons. Few directors other than John Woo has mastered that kind of unity between images and music, until now. Corey Yun comes damn close.
The second big actionscene, the showdown between the sisters and Kong, starting in the elevator, is a bit more dirty. It takes it's cue from the classic Hong Kong version of the Mexican stand-off, but when the girls lose their guns and start fighting using martial arts, the film hits an absolute high. I don't know much about martial arts, but I know what I like, and I certainly like the sight of Shu Qi actually getting to fight for real.
The final showdown with the bad guys also leaves you breathless. Zhao Wei is SO cool in this scene. She takes out one bodyguard after another, without breaking a sweat. And what does she do when she runs out of bullets? Why, she simply throws the gun at them instead! Later she gets into a swordfight with the bad guy's right hand man . This is an INSANE scene, one of the greatest swordfighting scenes I've ever seen (though, I should probably note that I haven't seen that many).
The overall technical qualities of the film also has to be commended. One thing is the choreography of the martial arts, but the choreography of the camera is equally flawless. Sets and locations are used to an absolute maximum, and photography and editing works overtime, exclusively to provide more style to the ladies. This combined with a remarkably restrained use of CGI in a few selected scenes, produces one of the most slick action movies to come out of Hong Kong in many many years.
Shu Qi is fantastic. The part is by no means a stretch for her. She's played this kind of girl a thousand times before, and she's got it down to a T. But in Corey Yuen's hands she's more than usually beautiful. Just watch the way she walks in to a room, while her hair gently moves in a soft breeze that seems to follow her everywhere. But she's got more to offer than just her looks. She's lethal killing machine. When she takes the riffle and in a second makes the kill that Sue was slowly warming up to, it becomes apparent just how far gone she is. Shu Qi makes the most of her character's quiet desperation. Lynn may live a good life, and she may have her sister close by, but she earns a living by killing, and that cold fact seems to be forever present in her mind. When she meets Yen again the emptiness of her life dawns on her. Maybe I'm getting soft here, but the look in her eyes when she realises what she's been missing, is genuinely sad, and gets me every time. So sweet.
Zhao Wei is also pretty cute. But her character is a bit more problematic. She doesn't have much to do in the first part of the movie, and we're left with the impression that she's a tech nerd, and doesn't really know how to fight (she does still have some moves, mind you). But, later when she joins the action, she suddenly fights like a pro. Lynn makes a big point out of telling her that she's not good enough and part of the reason behind this is that Lynn feels guilty towards their job, and wants to protect Sue from this. But when we see how she fights, it doesn't make any sense that A) she's that good, and B) if she is that good, why the hell hasn't she joined Lynn sooner?
Karen Mok provides a good contrast to the two sisters. She's beautiful, but not model beautiful like the others. She radiates seriousness, but she's still able to goof around now and then. A good combination. Within moments of her introduction she also proves herself with some stylish martial arts, and from there on you have no trouble believing that she's a competent policewoman. Karen Mok uses every opportunity the script gives her, to break the mould, and the result is quiet effective. There's just something hypnotic about the way she carries herself, and you won't easily forget her contribution to this film.
The only trouble with having this many memorable female characters is that it doesn't leave a hell of a lot of room for the guys. Korean star Seoung-Heon Song, leaves absolutely no impression, and the bad guys seem almost subdued. Shouldn't they laugh manically and plot to rule the world? This is after all not a realistic film, and their plan - simply to take over the company - does lacks a bit of oomph.
The love story between Lynn and Yen has been much criticised. I must admit that I'm pretty comfortable with it. It's simple, sweet and provides a good emotion anchor for the character. There isn't much meat on it, but that's okay. It shouldn't take up any more of the story than it does.
Bottom-line: It's great to see female cops and robbers chase each other relentlessly for a change, and they can easily carry the film and our attention. The film is badly in need of an Anthony Wong or Lau Ching Wan, to run around looking menacing, and to provide an actual threat for our heroes, but despite this flaw "So Close" is still highly enjoyable. The film is never anything short of entertaining and gorgeous to look at, and probably the best Shu Qi action movie in a very long time. It won't change the face of Hong Kong action cinema, but it's a solid effort. And I wouldn't mind if they made it into a franchise, though I doubt that will ever happen. Still, one can always hope.