Director: Cheang Soi
Starring: Shawn Yue, Anthony Wong, Guo Xiaodong, Josie Ho, Michelle Ye, Barbie Hsu
Motorway tells the story of hotshot traffic officer Cheung (Shawn Yue0 and his soon-to-be retired partner Lo (Anthony Wong). Despite having a talent for driving he frequently finds himself stuck behind the bureaucracy of police work and wants a bit of action. When a notorious getaway driver Jiang (Guo Xiaodong) makes a daring prison rescue of a criminal and partner in crime (Li Haitao), he realizes he needs to learn much more about driving in order to capture this legendary getaway artist.
After being in production for a number of years, Motorway finally was released earlier this year in June. Being a fan of Soi Cheang’s Accident in no small amount, I have come to look forward to any work that the director’s name has been attached. When the trailer was released and featured some great looking car stunts, I began to look forward to the film with greater anticipation. Now that I’ve seen it, the film has turned out to be a little different from what I was expecting, but considering the talent involved, I should be surprised by what I was anticipating. It’s a bit of a flawed film, but solid, mature, and gritty.
Shawn Yue is a bit unlikable as Cheung. He’s uber-confident and prone to flying off the handle. A flawed character, but it’s a typical archetype that serves the movie well. He’s gotta learn something after all. Anthony Wong delivers a typically good performance as Lo. He’s a bit grizzled but good-natured and understandably looking forward to his chance to leave the force and spend time with his wife. He’s shaken by the re-appearance of this thought lost fugitive and delivers some solid work. Guo Xiaodong’s Jiang is cool and seemingly always in control. He’s a villain that has a lot of skill but has it as a matter of fact instead of being boisterous about it. You don’t really get to see much about him outside of a car, but he’s a menacing presence behind the wheel. The supporting cast is okay with what they have to do though Barbie Hsu is given a bit of a throwaway role that feels tacked on, as Cheung’s love interest. She’s pretty and all, but it also was a bit obvious that she was dubbed into Cantonese since her voice didn’t quite match. Not a big deal considering she‘s only in the film for a few minutes of screen time, but she’s kind of unnecessary in the grand scheme.
Where the film shines is absolutely in the car chases and stunt work. Choreographed by Chin Kar Lok, the film features great driving stuntmen and realistic and skilled car manipulation. The chases aren’t the glossy redline tickling car chases of exaggeration, but a more technical and nuanced game of strategy. It feels right at home amidst the tight corners and narrow alleys of Hong Kong. The methods which are used to dodge road spikes and manipulate impossibly tight corners were pretty amazing to this viewer. There is a distinct lack of computer effects, for which I was thankful. I absolutely feel that the art of real cars on film is so much better than the hyper realized and exaggerated version seen typically in modern action films. Also, there isn’t a lot, but the gunplay present is very violent and always comes at a surprise at its suddenness and violence.
Production value offers a good looking film. It’s gritty and dark and probably my favorite sequence takes place in a dark and crowded parking complex. This scene is tense and well shot with the strategy used to attack and defend in cars being very reminiscent to chess. Using a variety of internal, mounted, and stationary cameras, the shooting of the car sequences is fantastically engaging. The look of the film is phenomenal. Music is a bit on the forgettable side, but the choice to use no music in many action scenes, gives the sequences a bit of a punch that I fully appreciated. What music there is, is downplayed and lacking the commercial music typical of a film with these kind of stars. The sound design is great though with the crunch of cars and revving of engines being both realistic and solid.
With a lean runtime and serious tone, I liked Motorway quite a bit. It is wholly predictable and there isn’t much in terms of real character development, aside from the great Anthony Wong, but the undeniably great car sequences play out like a game of chess. It’s a car film not for the ‘Fast and Furious’ crowd and though I’m in no way a car guy, I could absolutely appreciate the skill and talent of the drivers on hand. While hardly must see viewing and a more commercial departure for Soi Cheang, it is a nonetheless entertaining film well worth the realistic stunt driving alone.