Killer Imports: Fatal Move

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Killer Imports is a regular feature on Film Junk where we explore foreign-language films from around the world that haven’t yet had their chance to shine.

There’s a scene in Fatal Move that made me appreciate this film. The camera is shooting from a relatively high angle, looking down at the aftermath of a shooting in which Chinese Triad members are laying on the pavement beside a car. We see another car enter the scene quickly. And the car runs over one of the men lying on the road! Normally, in the movies, you would expect a car to swerve around a body on the road, because you would be expecting a stuntman to be lying on the road. I didn’t rewind to see if the film-makers used a dummy or a CGI facsimile, but this subversion of expectation is the visual sleight of hand that I love.

Last month, I had watched the first twenty minutes of this film and I didn’t think too much about it, so I moved on. When I returned to this movie recently, I think I got hooked at the midway point. There is a lot of CGI blood that is the blood of choice when filming movies with swords nowadays. In this movie, the splattering CGI blood does appear unreal but maybe that’s because you don’t normally see the blood in a movie when a person is slashed with a sword. Or judicious editing and camera placement avoids showing the blood as the sword swipes across a body part. I don’t remember the blood from the Kill Bill movies looking this unreal. Perhaps what makes Fatal Move different is that the camera seems to hold position at times while allowing you to see someone slashing his way through opponents.

There are several instances of a head, limbs, and fingers being graphically severed, but I don’t think it’s overdone (even in the uncut Hong Kong version). Because the director would not edit these scenes out, this film was never released in mainland China. Action sequences are interspersed throughout the film, but there is considerable drama. I have seen many films with Sammo Hung, and I’ve never thought much about his thespian talents. I have noticed his comedic flair in the past, but Fatal Move is the first movie where I’ve seen him demonstrate some dramatic heft. He plays the leader of a Chinese Triad gang. The plot of this movie involves Chinese Triad gangs fighting for territory. This is a popular Chinese film genre.

As an interesting side note, Sammo has a scar between his nose and his mouth, and this is quite evident in the film. I’m not sure I really noticed the scar before or paid it much attention. Anyway, according to Bey’s Blog at the Dragon Dynasty web-site, the scar is a result of an actual street fight in which Sammo got a broken Coke bottle swung into his face from behind! Sammo thought his friend had his back.

When I first heard about Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, I sort of wondered why the source movie, Infernal Affairs, was so admired. I had seen Infernal Affairs and I had thought it was a somewhat ordinary undercover good guy versus bad guy story with twists. People generally acknowledge that Infernal Affairs is an awkward title for a film of its caliber, but I don’t see an improvement in the American remake title. I can see Fatal Move as a prime candidate for being remade in America. I have read some unfavorable reviews of Fatal Move, so maybe I’m in the minority for thinking there’s something unique in it. It would be interesting to find out if Coppola’s Godfather films have influenced Chinese filmmakers who have made Chinese Triad films.

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In various genre movies, there are some conventions in place in order to justify violence inflicted by heroes or villains. In science fiction movies, we normally have enemies being robots or non-humanoid aliens. In horror movies, we have the monsters killing promiscuous teenagers. In superhero movies, most heroes don’t use lethal guns and they never kill the criminals. Until post-Vietnam, war movies had humans killing other humans for patriotic reasons. Nowadays in war movies, there is no justification for humans killing humans. One thing I find interesting about gangster films where you have gangs fighting each other is that morally, the violence inflicted upon each other seems valid since they’re only hurting themselves. I mean, if the cops were to resort to such violence, then it wouldn’t feel right to cheer for the cops. Sammo’s gang has some cool fighters, and I found myself cheering for these guys, even though they’re not really good guys. However, they are loyal, which is one redeeming trait of being a gang member of any nationality.

I don’t see how anyone would consider joining a gang after seeing this movie. Generally, in any film with bad guys, the bad guys have no qualms about killing insubordinates or incompetents. Sure, working for a legal organization still might involve backstabbing peers, but you won’t necessarily be killed! I understand the appeal of feeling like you’re a part of a family that looks out for you. Joining a gang is sometimes a survival tactic. That’s unfortunate. I guess that’s why there are people who try to get at risk youth involved in programs that will hopefully keep them away from bad influences.

Getting back to the movie, one of Sammo’s henchmen is a martial-artist / actor who I understand has been trying to make his claim to fame. His name is Wu Jing aka Jacky Wu as well as a slew of other similar pseudonyms. In Fatal Move, he can be easily identified as the guy with the blue hair. I had seen him in minor roles in other films, but I hadn’t taken notice of him until Fatal Move. I was sufficiently impressed to go out and buy Invisible Target and Legendary Assassin, the latter film being his most recent and for which he is a co-director. Maybe I’ll review those two films later. (In case you’re wondering, I liked Invisible Target more than Legendary Assassin even though he has a smaller role in it.)

North American fans of Chinese crime films might be pleased to know that Simon Yam and Danny Lee have major roles in the film. Apparently, both these actors were selected by the director in order for the film to have some North American appeal. I’m not a big fan of many of the crime films that John Woo, Ringo Lam, and Tsui Hark have done. Recent Asian films have shown a level of polish and refinement that better suit my tastes. I’m not familiar with this film’s director and writer, Dennis Law. I still need to buy his previous unrelated film, Fatal Contact, that was a starring vehicle for Wu Jing.

Some reviews have complained about the melodrama and uninspired performances from the actors because of the clichéd script, but these criticisms feel hyperbolic to me. I doubt that all the actors would treat the material as second-rate. (To be fair, I have been criticized for not being able to properly critique acting skills, but I do feel vindicated that William Shatner has been nominated and won awards for his acting.) Most reviewers seem to like better the film SPL, which starred many of the same actors as Fatal Move, and also Donnie Yen. There were some scenes in SPL that I really enjoyed, but I think Fatal Move is thematically cohesive and thus the better film. For fear of ruining any plot elements and possible surprises in Fatal Move, I have avoided describing too much of what happens in it.

Some of the regular readers of Killer Imports might think that I pretty much enjoy every film I see and that I’m not very discerning. Generally, I prefer to review films that have given me a good impression. I’ve recently seen a widely circulated film that I absolutely hate. It stars a female that kicks ass. It’s called Coweb. I’ll try reviewing it for my next Killer Import.

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  • Big Hungry

    Not a fan of CGI blood – I would rather see a blood bag old school style effect. Or shoot the blood splatter and then composite it into shot than a CGI fest. Interesting that you worked Star Trek into this review. I think that should be your thing to have all reviews relate back to Star Trek. I like you reviewing these types of movies because I would of never heard of this.

  • ToeFu

    yeah, CGI blood is terrible. If I recall correctly, Suicide Club & Ichi the Killer employed the computerized plasma substance to a distracting effect. It’s too shiny and it looks like a video game. The ol’ Heinz 57 would make a more convincing crimson bodily fluid.

    Nice write up. More Cantankerous please.

  • Big Hungry, thx for reading my review of a movie that you’re not familiar with. When I’m reviewing Asian movies, it’s rather difficult to work in a Star Trek angle, but Star Trek is second nature to me so it’s bound to spill out. I’m glad I’m able to introduce people to films that aren’t in the Hollywood mainstream. I’d love to find someone with my tastes who has access to cinema in other parts of the world.

    ToeFu, now that you mention it, the blood does look like it’s from a videogame. I’ve actually done blood effects for videogames. The problem is that you can’t really use anything as a real-world reference. And I’ve actually used Heinz ketchup squirted from a squeeze bottle to simulate blood from a beheading in a video I made with a friend for “fun.”

    As for Cantankerous, the problem is finding interesting material to tell. Jay is good at finding strange things about me that people would find funny. I haven’t talked about my deformity, yet. Maybe that might be interesting as a starting off topic.

  • ToeFu

    Interesting topic right there…your time in the game industry. I myself was writing for a video game blog a while back until it was purchased by IGN/Gamespy and I was not taken along for the ride. Cantankerous on Gaming in the near future?

  • ToeFu, I’m fresh from leaving the videogame industry and I’m not sure I want to burn all the bridges just yet. Too many of my cohorts are familiar with Cantankerous as well, so I wouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings (including Sean’s, ha, ha).