Tuesday, 8 November 2011


Film: City Under Siege
UK Release date: 7th November 2011
Year: 2010
Certificate: 15
Director: Benny Chan
Starring: Collin Chou, Aaron Kwok, Chrissie Chow
Running time: 107 mins
Genre: Action/Sci-fi
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewer: Adam Wing

There are good films, there are bad films, and then there are films so bad they’re good. I’m not quite sure why I mention this, because make no mistake about it, City Under Siege is a really bad movie. Occasionally, and I’m being really positive on this one, Benny Chan’s latest touches on greatness, but that’s only because the rest of the film is so ill-conceived and hopelessly dire, it’s easy to get caught up in the crassness of it all.

Hong Kong director Benny Chan’s (Connected) sci-fi action film pits a naïve circus performer against his dangerous colleagues after being contaminated by a biochemical that gives them superhuman powers. Aaron Kwok leads a superpower cast that also includes Shu Qi, Wu Jing (SPL), Zhang Jing Chu (Aftershock), and Colin Chou (Flash Point). City Under Siege features explosive action choreography by Nicky Lee (Invisible Target) and Ma Yuk Sing (Storm Warriors), and did I mention the fact that Shu Qi is the leading lady, I don’t care how bad this movie is, consider me contented.

Sunny (Aaron Kwok) is a naïve, not to mention highly strung, circus performer who dreams of inheriting his father's knife-throwing skills. He’s also very annoying. However, his hostile colleagues continue to bully him, relegating him to lowly clown status - lowly, annoying clown status it has to be said. On a tour to Malaysia, Cheung (Colin Chou) and some of the other performers discover a cave occupied by the Japanese army during World War II.

Instead of finding treasure, the performers are sprayed with a mysterious chemical that turns them into superhuman mutants – complete with terrible make up effects that make early episodes of Doctor Who look like factual evidence. Back in Hong Kong, Cheung and his gang wreak havoc on the city by pulling off a series of daring bank robberies; they also throw lots of knives and stuff, in poorly rendered CGI slo-mo I might add.

With the city controlled by fear, Sunny becomes the city's latest crime fighting hero with the help of Shu Qi’s opportunistic reporter Angel (now we’re talking), not to mention two supernatural phenomenon experts from Mainland China (Wu Jing and Zhang Jung Chu). If you’re looking for positive factors to emerge from this review, Shu QI, Wu Jing and Zhang Jung Chu deserve much better – the rest of the cast and crew do not.

Basically, City Under Siege is a complete mess of a movie. The lead character is prone to childlike emotional outbursts, and Aaron Kwok’s performance is undeniably awful. I wish the guy would work out what kind of actor he is, because on this evidence, standout performances in Murderer and The Detective feel like a long time ago. Much of the blame lands at the feet of Chan of course; it always mystifies me when a top-flight filmmaker fails to see just how bad his creation actually is. Presumably he didn’t shoot the entire movie in the dark, and at some point he must’ve watched back some of Kwok’s cringe worthy delivery. Tone, self control and charm, if they aren’t on Kwok’s Christmas wish list this year I’ll eat my Brussels sprouts.

The storyline is poorly developed, and the emotional subplots are laughable and unconvincing. Honestly, two parts action monstrosity, one part romance, it’s the most unconvincing love story of the year – and I’ve seen all three Twilight movies. Well, two of them at least. Which one is it with the topless action figures and the ropey CGI? You know the one, Kristen Stewart mopes around all day looking like she just signed on for part four. That one. Ridiculously unconvincing and drained of emotion, which brings us neatly back to Benny Chan’s latest assault on the senseless.

It’s a good half hour before Shu Qi turns up, and boy does she belong in a different movie. I’m not denying the fact that she’s made some pretty bad career choices over the years, but City Under Siege has got to be up there with The Wesley’s Mysterious File. Her character is one-dimensional for sure, but she does make for arresting imagery, and that smile could melt a thousand latex faces. The same can be said for Wu Jing, who’s a standout performer in everything he does. Even a film as bad as this one, even a film in which he’s asked to cry, unconvincingly it has to be said. That’s the word of the day with City Under Siege though; ‘unconvincing’ never got a better write up. Even the kung-fu spectacles take a beating, relying far too heavily on wire assisted anarchy and a reckless disregard for gravity.

I was a massive fan of Benny Chan’s Connected, but his skills behind the camera are pretty much unrecognisable here. He can just about handle an action sequence, but any attempts at emotional depth are laughable. That said, I’m putting most of the blame on Kwok. His inability to ‘reign it in’ brings new meaning to the word embarrassment. When you hit the ‘pause’ button every time another person enters the room, you know you’re on a slippery slope. Aaron Kwok I salute you, you and all your ill-conceived dagger throwing antics.

If it’s crappy make-up effects, evil circus performers, grown men crying unconvincingly and an overacting Aaron Kwok you’re after, City Under Siege is going to rock your world. If it’s quality filmmaking you’re craving, Benny Chan’s latest probably isn’t the best way to see the New Year in. The new year or any other year for that matter.

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