Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Badges of Fury: Jet Li Supervises

Jet Li’s Huang Fei Hong is sort of the Sergeant Murtaugh of the Hong Kong police.  He is definitely getting too old for this sort of thing, but unlike his Lethal Weapon counterpart, he always punches out promptly at 5:00 and disappears for long stretches.  That leaves most of the slapstick to his younger colleagues.  Seniority has its privileges.  Still, whenever Huang returns for a throw down, things perk up dramatically in Wong Tsz-ming’s Badges of Fury (trailer here), which releases today on DVD and BluRay from Well Go USA.

Huang is a crafty old salt who is more interested in his retirement portfolio than office politics.  Wang Bu-er thinks he’s all that, but has an uncanny talent for self-sabotage.  Their young, insecure team leader has paired them together in the hopes some of Huang’s mature risk aversion will rub off on Wang.  So far, it is not taking.  Wang just keeps blundering ahead, inadvertently aiding the escape of the wanted criminal Huang nearly captures in the spectacular opening action sequence.

However, Badges is not really about the fugitive Chen Hu.  Frankly, it keeps changing its mind, but the preponderance of the narrative involves the investigation of the so-called “Smile Murders.”  Each of the victims died with a strange smile plastered across their faces.  It turns out they were also all once engaged to low budget starlet Liu Jinshui.  Quickly, Liu falls under suspicion, but her half-sister Dai Yiyi appears far more dangerous, given her obvious va-va-voom.

When Badges goes for laughs, it can be painful.  However, action director Corey Yuen embraces the film’s cartooniness, unleashing his inner Itchy and Scratchy for some absolutely off-the-wall fight scenes.  In the big opener and closer, Jet Li shows he still has his mojo.  It is too bad there isn’t more of him as the steely Huang.  Unfortunately, his Ocean Heaven co-star Wen Zhang kind of stinks up the joint with his shtick.  Rising star Michelle Chen (so memorable in Ripples of Desire) is also clearly out of her element as their exasperated superior.  At least, Ada Liu vamps it up with gusto as the femme fatale sister.

As if Badges were not inconsistent enough, it also shoehorns in more cameos than the director’s cut of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.  Sometimes it works great, as when action star Wu Jing shows up to rumble as an insurance investigator.  Other times, it can be a rather head-scratching distraction for viewers not up on their Hong Kong reality television.  Still, it is always pleasant to see Lam Suet, Stephy Tang, Josie Ho, and Grace Huang on-screen.

When it clicks, Badges is a martial arts machine.  When it doesn’t, it is usually dabbling in romantic comedy.  Still, Jet Li and Wu Jing’s chops, Yuen’s gravity-defying fight choreography, and Liu’s sex appeal should be enough to hold HK action junkies’ interest on DVD.  Recommended for fans, but not as a Jet Li entry point, Badges of Fury is now available for home viewing from Well Go USA.