The Film (1.5/5)
(Prefatory note: Not to be confused with POLICE ACADEMY 6: CITY UNDER SIEGE.)
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A greed-headed Chinese circus troupe goes to Malaysia in search of hidden WW2 gold cached by Imperial Japan, and bullying their sensitive young clown cousin (Sunny, played by pop-star/actor Aaron Kwok of THE STORM RIDERS) all the way. Led by Zhang (Collin Chou), the troupe enters an abandoned underground complex that had been a military biological experimentation lab decades earlier -- and they promptly get exposed to a weird gas that turns them all into superhuman mutants. Returning to Hong Kong, they go on a freakish crime rampage until stopped by the now-superheroic clown-who-wants-to-be-a-knife-thrower (the aforementioned Sunny). Got all that?
That’s the American comic book-inspired plot of the cheesy, ridiculous CITY UNDER SIEGE, the film that answers the question, “What does it look like if Aaron Kwok wears a gratuitous fat suit for several minutes of maudlin character exposition?” X-MEN: FIRST CLASS it’s not. Employing a range of practical effects that are cutting-edge for the year 1978, CITY UNDER SIEGE makes you long for the sober realism and thrilling action of Shaquille O’Neal’s 1997 superhero epic STEEL.
Touting its action choreography by award-winner Chung Chi Li (RUSH HOUR), the film fails to deliver on the promise of new thrills and settles for overlong, lackluster wire-fu and a smorgasbord of terrible acting. It’s hard to decide if Aaron Kwok’s godawful man-child Sunny is worse than the cornball relish (and pickles and onions) of Collin Chou’s melodramatic villainy as Zhang (his performance is comparable with Princess Dragon Mom in INFRA MAN), but they’re Oscar-bait compared to Shu Qi’s subtly-named Angel. (You’ll be shocked to discover that she’s our troubled hero’s love interest.)
That’s about the tone for whole film, too. Nothing happens that isn’t a setup for something else to pay off, which you’d think was Filmmaking 101… except that in this case, it means that having a female reporter in the story indicates that she has to have her own pointless job-related subplot (as just one example). And it means that if our hero wants to be a world-champion knife thrower, then his greatest enemy must engage him in a knife-throwing fight. It’s not enough that they’re both mutants in really awful makeup – they also have to share a skill that is not whatchacall commonplace.
Between Sunny and the male/female cop/martial artist couple involved in the story (speaking of subplots, sidebars and things you don’t need to elaborate on), the story is also brimming with nauseating hearts-and-flowers romance that would be laughed at by dedicated readers of Twilight. This part of the movie can uncharitably be compared to the ongoing romance of Troma’s Toxic Avenger and his blind sweetheart, only I really don’t think director Benny Chan is intentionally sending up the romantic plot threads. They’re just plain sappy.
But then again, the entire film overstays its welcome on a lot of fronts. The way it details the lives of minor supporting cast characters, you begin to wonder if the story will veer off and follow a kindly grocer or perhaps a bored cross-town bus driver. This wouldn’t be so bad if the movie was a sort of cheapass superhero version of MYSTERY TRAIN or TRUE STORIES or something. But when the lead character himself is a shallow, silly, idiotically sincere and charmless na´f who wants to be the world’s greatest knife-throwing clown (just like his late father – how’d you guess?), it’s all downhill from there.
Director Benny Chan is best known for NEW POLICE STORY (2004), which was a decent later Jackie Chan vehicle but hardly a breakthrough for either Chan. This movie is no jewel in the director’s crown, and it certainly hasn’t got a world-class star in it. And the occasional dab of lame humor that’s smeared onto CITY UNDER SIEGE does nothing to raise its quality level, but definitely reminds you of just how much you miss the other Chan – Jackie – and his seasoned gift for comedy.
What’s good about CITY UNDER SIEGE? Well, it’s kind of different. All right, that’s not quite enough. It’s dumb, populist, nutball stuff that you can certainly laugh at with the drink of your choice (and a few friends wouldn’t hurt, either). There’s no need to worry about this movie engaging your brain too much; in fact, it would be something of a miracle if it engaged your thought processes at all, except to occasionally shout, “WHAT?!” It may not have the classic lunatic inventiveness of a RICKY OH, but it has brazen weirdness to spare. And all those tedious interludes for romance and side characters are perfect opportunities to grab a snack or use the bathroom. The production has a respectable enough budget for what it is, and that’s a minor plus.
In the end, you won’t laugh with CITY UNDER SIEGE, but you just might laugh at it. There’s nothing like a good Hong Kong fantasy-action movie, and this is nothing like one, too.
This has to be one of the selling points of pricing this at $29.98. The whole thing looks and sounds really good, both in standard DVD and HD Blu-Ray (thus the two disks in the set). The picture is crisp and clear, with vibrant color and image quality. Like any digital image, the blacks in shadows can have a few problems (and the movie is shot to be dark, so this isn’t entirely trivial).
Dolby-enhanced audio is offered up in both English and Cantonese (with English-only subtitles), and is adequate in terms of surround effects.
I don’t count menus or chapter stops as extras, really, so this DVD/Blu-Ray set basically has trailers from its distributor (including the trailer for CITY UNDER SIEGE itself) and a 25-minute “making of” mini-documentary that isn’t half-bad. In a world where extras are becoming scarce (in what seems a precursor of recorded media becoming scarce itself), this is a welcome addition.
It’s fun to laugh at bad movies, but when somebody offers you the chance to do that in both DVD and Blu-Ray for the “low, low price” of nearly thirty bucks American, you really have to be desperate for chuckles. CITY UNDER SIEGE just isn’t entertaining enough to buy this set.
City Under Siege
Director - Benny Chan
Cast - Aaron Kwok, Collin Chou, Shu Oi
Country of Origin - Japan
MSRP - $29.98
Distributor - Funimation
Reviewer - Richard A. Becker