Director: Jingle Ma
Stars: Jordan Chan, Ekin Cheng, Kelly Chen, Terence Yin
A group of CIA scientists -- C.S. (Chan), Tango (Cheng) and Blue (Chen) -- are working on a secret project called "VR Fighter" which uses a combination of hypnosis and virtual reality to turn ordinary men into super fighters. A rogue terrorist known as Alien (Yin) wants the hypnosis technology to use for inciting riots to drive up commodity prices, and so he kidnaps Blue. C.S. and Tango decide to use VR Fighter to rescue Blue, but during the mission they learn of the project's consequences -- it turns some of the subjects into raving homicidal maniacs. The two friends are set against each other, all while Alien is bringing his plan to fruition.
Hot War has some good things going for it, such as a good story, a large (by HK standards) budget, and a good star in Jordan Chan. But ultimately it falls into the realm of mediocrity. The film's main problem is the script. It isn't horrible, just poorly developed. Characters come and go at the drop of a hat. Alien has a silent Japanese bodyguard that could have brought some life into the film, but she's cut from the movie almost just as quickly as she came in. There's some references made to the fact that the three scientists grew up together, but except for a lame flashback sequence, it's not built on -- which hampers the development of the relationships between the characters during the course of the film.
The whole VR Fighter plot device really isn't used to its' full potential. Except for a cool training sequence, it really doesn't figure into the film all that much. Supposedly C.S. and Tango are supposed to be super fighters...then how come they both have to take on Alien in a fist-fight? I was expecting Matrix-style antics, but no such luck. There's not even a hint of wire-fu, which I think would have fit into the film perfectly. In fact, the action is pretty poor all around. There are numerous nods to John Woo (including Ekin wearing a Mark Gor-style trenchcoat and jumping off a building using a cable ala Hard-Boiled), but Hot War fails to capture the intensity, originality or just sheer firepower of a Woo movie (or many other HK films, for that matter).
My next point may be more of a pet peeve than anything else. A lot of the film is in English, which leads to the annoying bit of having English subs on when the characters are speaking English. If the film-makers were going for an international audience, why didn't they just dub the whole movie into English -- or at least make sure that the home version didn't have subs on all the time? I admit that this may be more a personal annoyance than anything else, but the majority of English in the movie brings up another (some would say more valid) point: the gweilo actors, for lack of a better word, suck. These guys come from the same crappy mold that brought you the silly multi-cultural "street gang" in Rumble in the Bronx (which could come as no surprise, since Jackie Chan produced the movie). Even the Asian actors are pretty bad. Terence Yin is horrible as Alien. I have of word of advice for future film-makers: giving your villain a bad dye job and having him smirk does not make him scary or cool. Combined with Ekin Cheng and Kelly Chen's "acting," at times Hot War was just painful to watch. Thank God for Jordan Chan and his mumble-mouthed mannerisms -- they're Hot War's one saving grace acting-wise.
Hot War's other major problem is a lack of heart. The film just feels hollow. Many people have described it as "too Hollywood," and I agree somewhat. There's nothing wrong with a Hollywood action movie in of itself. Many great action films, such as Die Hard, Lethal Weapon and The Terminator have come out of Hollywood and provide just as much entertainment as many other, more "serious" films. However, many Hollywood films suffer from the cookie-cutter syndrome -- basically they're just making a movie to make money. That's the feeling I got with Hot War. It looks great, but there's nothing behind it.
A review of the DVD for this movie can be found here
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