Director: Donnie Yen
Stars: Donnie Yen, Annie Wu, James Wong, Simon Lui, Yu Rong-Guang
Donnie Yen plays Cat, a man who spends his days talking with a radio DJ and admiring the cute cop who lives across the street (Wu) and his nights making money as an assassin. He agrees to take one last job so he can retire. The job is to take out a producer, whose bodyguard turns out to be Cat's former NYPD partner Wesley (Wong), who framed Cat and sent him to jail before coming to Hong Kong. Cat sets out to kill Wesley, but Wu gets in the way, so Cat kidnaps her. You probably know the rest -- Cat and Wu fall in love as both the cops and Wesley close in.
Ballistic Kiss certainly has its share of detractors; one of the nicknames for this movie in the newsgroups is "Ballistic Sh*t." However, it also has its share of supporters. The books Planet Hong Kong and City on Fire note it as one of the best post-handover action movies (City on Fire goes so far as to say that it "revives the Hong Kong action movie"). I would supsect Hong Kong Action Cinema author Bey Logan would also rave about the movie, but that's probably because he helped write the story and is a good friend of Yen's. Anyway, expecting the worst but hoping for the best, I dove into this movie and I find myself in neither camp. Ballistic Kiss has some inventive moments, but is ultimately let down by a weak script and some over-indulgence on Yen's part, both as star and director.
The bad bits? I've already mentioned the script, which just has really weak character motivation. It uses the age-old device of the hostage falling for her captor, even though there is no reason for her to do so. One of Cat's first lines to Wu is "Don't move, or I will break all your limbs" and later he tells her (while she is tied up) that he watches her very night before he goes to bed. Gee, what a smoothie. A sadist and a stalker -- no wonder she falls for him! The script also overuses profanity. I'm not against profanity in movies -- films like Reservoir Dogs and Goodfellas put it to some very creative uses -- but when every other word in a movie is the "f-bomb" just for the sake of putting in there (or so it seems), it gets old really quick.
The other major problem in Ballistic Kiss is the cast. Besides Yen, the leads are just plain horrible. Annie Wu, in particular, is bad. Wesley tells her early on "you don't look like a cop," and I couldn't agree more. I can see why Cat would develop a thing for her -- she's plenty cute -- but she displays no toughness at all, and as such, is totally unbelievable as a cop. James Wong isn't great either. You must have a good actor to play the villain in any action movie, and Wong doesn’t fit the bill. He uses the standard half-Cantonese/half-English for HK film newcomers and delivers both horribly. Watching this guy try to drop street slang in order to look tough is painful.
The good bits come with the action sequences, at least some of them. Donnie Yen is one of the best martial artists in Hong Kong movies, and he puts his talents to good use here. There is one implausible shootout in the film, where literally thousands of rounds are fired at close range to Cat, but he gets hit only once. In the arm. Barely. I know it's an unwritten rule that bad guys in action movies are supposed to be lousy shots, but this is ridiculous. But other than that scene, the rest of the action stuff is pretty good (though a bit overcranked) and stylishly violent. Yen also creates an interesting character. Despite the flaws in Ballistic Kiss, I was intrigued by the character of Cat. I wish Yen had taken a Ghost Dog approach to this film, and distanced Cat even further from humanity. This would make more sense given his views on the subject ("there is no innocence") and create a more unique film experience, rather than the same old heroic bloodshed with a few new tricks we have here.
A review of the VCD for this movie can be found here
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