The other day I noticed ads on the internet for Invisible Target, a film I’ve had on DVD for quite some time. I assumed the ads were for some kind of internet Asian film shop, but in fact they were for the film itself, which has got a North American DVD release though Dragon Dynasty. Noticing the ad spurred me on to write something down about the film, though I’m not entirely sure how this relates to the Dragon Dynasty release. For the record, my version is the Hong Kong release, but if Twitch is to be trusted, and they are, the Dragon Dynasty version is not edited in anyway from the original film.

Invisible Target is a Hong Kong action film from 2007, directed by Benny Chan. Personally, I’ve never rated Chan as much of a filmmaker. After all, his hands directed the abomination known as Gen X Cops 2 (hardly Paul Rudd‘s finest moment). My favourite thing about that film, apart from the random appearance of Paul Rudd in it, is the North American retitling, which my brother constantly reminds me is Jackie Chan Presents Metal Mayhem. Wonderful. The original Gen X Cops, which I like better, was most likely one of the movies that sent the HK film market into a spiral of poseur Hollywood knock offs from which it is only now recovering. I never saw the love for Big Bullet, the police movie from which most of his kudos springs from, and Who Am I wouldn’t make my list of favourite Jackie Chan films.

But for the most part, his films are successful at the box office. I think of him as a kind of lower key HK Michael Bay or Rob Cohen. Gen X Cops was basically XXX for Hong Kong, a watered down mash up of Young and Dangerous and Final Option, but it worked and helped drive some of the cast to stardom. Benny Chan may be one of the guilty parties for creating the atmosphere which ran HK films into the ground, but he’s also trying to make amends. Four years ago, he was behind New Police Story, the HK Jackie Chan re-launch that was largely quite successful. Three years ago, Benny directed Divergence, a thriller which didn’t impress foreign critics but did well at home, though really it was just Chan realigning his compass toward recent toned down thriller successes like Infernal Affairs and Election, with a bit of a 24 vibe thrown in.

So if Mr. Chan is just going with the flow of the latest local hit, what other film relates to Invisible Target? In my mind, it’s most obvious cousin is Sha Po Lang. Invisible Target is basically a Donnie Yen film from start to finish, only without Donnie Yen in it. They might have thought it clever to spread the action stereotype over three actors rather than one character, but as they are all so one note, it doesn’t add any complexity. If the film featured Donnie alone, he might have been a reckless cop, who also believes in some traditional principals, or a busy-body patrolman who is actually an amazing fighter. Split into three characters, each can be only one of these things, and have no other facets to their personality.

The plot is silly even by the genre standards. In downtown Hong Kong, a gang of organised criminals lead by Wu Jing, Donnie’s main physical foe in SPL, pull off a Heat-style robbery of an armoured car. Unfortunately, and bafflingly, the final part of the plan involves blowing the now empty armoured car to pieces. The explosion kills a young woman in a nearby jewellery shop, the fiance of Nicholas Tse’s character. Six months later, the gang reappear in Hong Kong, three policemen with different grudges and personalities are determined to catch them. Tse is on a revenge mission, Shawn Yue is the unlikely Dirty Harry type and Jaycee Chan is the by the book patrolman looking for his missing brother. Naturally after a brief misunderstanding, the kind that gets settled with a bit of martial arts, they decide it’s better to work together rather than alone.

I’ve been watching Nicholas Tse since the Young and Dangerous prequel movie, and how they missed out on calling that Younger and More Dangerous I’ll never know. It’s amusing how his roles have changed slightly over the past ten years. After the car crash scandal a few years ago, his characters now are either a bit more thoughtful, helpful, or wracked with guilt. If his roles will change after the most recent sex scandal involving his wife remains to be seen. Anyway, Nic’s seniority gives him a kind of leadership role in the film which is more earned here than it was in Gen X Cops, where Stephen Fung challenged him for that position. Strangely, although Tse has been in the most action films of all the main cast, he seems to do the least fighting.

Shawn Yue, I feel, is a better dramatic actor than action star, but he keeps insisting on doing films such as this, Dragon Tiger Gate and the like. Though I was sceptical as the film started about how wiry former model Yue was going to handle being such a tough guy, he actually pulls it off as well as he might be expected to. However none of these teeny bopper types are a patch on actors like Lau Ching-Wan for these kinds of roles. Everyone is too young, too thin and too good looking to be very imposing. Jaycee Chan, luckily, is not trying to be tough in his role. He doesn’t have his father’s physical ability, but he does carry off some of his innocent charm. The movie sounds like it would be another good showcase for Wu Jing’s talents, but he does more strutting around in shades than demonstrating his flashy moves.

A number of other famous actors from Lam Suet to Sam Lee appear in small parts throughout the picture, but my favourite cameo has to be Aaron Kwok. He cameos only in a photograph! I’m not quite show how it came about that a picture of him ended up in this film, but maybe it was a favour to Benny Chan on the set of Divergence. I’m not sure what we’re supposed to glean from the fact that Jaycee’s older, missing brother is meant to be Aaron Kwok, but there you go.

Director Benny Chan’s non-Jackie career motto seems to be that anyone can be an action star if they are shot correctly. He’s wrong , but he makes the best defence of that theory to date. That is, if you don’t mind a bit of wire work and stunt doubles, including one case of a stunt double so bad, I couldn’t tell what character he was supposed to be for a moment. There are a number of fun stand out sequences, although the end naturally disappoints. There are always a lot of things sitting around to be broken. Restaurants have an unusually high amount of glass windows actually inside the restaurant. Tables and chairs are cluttered around in such away that you might expect someone to go flying through them. I’m not going to spoil if someone does or not, but keep an eye out.

There are some Benny Chan touches here, like the fact that he can’t stop himself from putting something gaudy and expensive in there somewhere. In a scene with Lam Suet, Shawn Yue’s brawler cop is made fun of for how little he makes. Fair enough. But a few scenes later we see him pull over a perp while driving around in a Maserati! Where did he get that from? Is it the standard issue police sports car, or something he’s been saving for on the weekends? It somewhat clashes with the Dirty Harry vibe they are going for with the character. I don’t remember Harry chasing criminals in a Rolls Royce.

Essentially, Invisible Target is a middle-of-the-road picture. Fans of HK action cinema will get something out of it, if they are looking for a movie like SPL, but not as good. The action sequences are still better choreographed and easier to follow than anything that Hollywood has produced in the last few years. But absolutely do not come for the drama or crime film aspects because Invisible Target, naturally, has nothing sensible for you.