Chan Zilong (Donnie Yen) has been an undercover officer in the Triads for more years than he can remember, resulting in his mannerisms taking on that of a thug and common hooligan. When a former member of his crew Sunny (Andy On) makes a power play for some territory in the mainland, he is sent by his Big Brother Xiong (Ngai Sing) to ascertain if he has grand designs for the rest of the old guard. Upon arrival in China, Chan teams up with a beautiful detective Fang Jing (Jing Tian) whose stiff textbook style clash with his loose undercover persona. When his cover comes close to being compromised, can he rely on Fang to have his back or will he get caught in between Xiong and Sunny fully exposed?
Clarence Fok returns to feature films after a 6 year absence to helm the troubled production of Special ID. With contract disputes and a very vocal feud between Yen and former cast member Vincent Zhao, I had begun to wonder if the film would ever see the light of day. Unfortunately, the film itself does seem to be the main casualty in a troubled production which results in poor character interactions and a generally mediocre script.
A generally average plot, that of an undercover officer working a case while trying to maintain his cover, is hardly new to cinema, especially in HK. The production gets bogged down too because Sunny’s motivations are never clear and he makes a general “power play” for some gem of information that never gets screen time. Also, the film unnecessarily spends far too much time in awkward and pause ridden scenes of Yen hanging out with his character’s mother and some forced chemistry between his character and that of Jing Tian. Add in Andy On coming in as a replacement role and the film feels rushed despite its bloated running time. Also, how can you have Ngai Sing in a film with only 10 seconds of fighting? It’s a mistake not to use his talents more appropriately.
The action choreography, care of Yen relies more on realistic grapple/ground fighting techniques than the punch and kick heavy action for which he is known. On my initial viewing I felt the action was interesting but slow, but a subsequent analysis of the fights show a decided attempt to establish tone and momentum in the fights. This gave me a much greater appreciation for the end fight in particular, with On vs. Yen in an absolutely exhausting brawl that features hard falls, joints manipulations, and bruises all around. Jing Tian has a few scenes as well with her standout sequence the jaw dropping car stunt about 2/3s of the way into the film. She handles herself quite well and just may be one to look out for in upcoming action cinema.
In the end, Special ID had a lot going for it on paper; good talented martial artists, Yen’s choreography, and a trailer which highlighted some great scenes. The end result unfortunately is a film that is too similar to the super fast and cheaply produced films of the early 90s but without any of the heart or fearlessness that made those movies such a surprising delight. The action scenes are generally good but without standout sequences and character motivation, the action just falls flat. Worth a watch for it’s attempt to make a new type of action scene, Special ID just doesn’t have enough going for it considering the hype and talent involved.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: Shanghai Affairs, Legendary Assassin, and/or City of Darkness