We see Flashpoint as a prequel to SPL, Donnie Yen’s second collaboration with Wilson Yip, this is very similar in tone and feel. It plays like a gangster/cop thriller holding on to some of the noir elements of SPL. The filmmakers seem to have stepped up a gear with a more kinetic feel. Overall everything is bolder and faster and more in line with traditional action films this follows the more conventional 3 act structure of storytelling.
Flashpoint follows Inspector Ma (Donnie Yen) and his partner Wilson (Louis Koo), two Hong Kong police officers working to take down a group of Vietnamese brothers Tony (Colin Chou), Archer (Ray Lui) and Tiger (Xing Yu) who operate a smuggling business. Donnie Yen’s Ma is played as an old school “Dirty Harry” type cop, as he says himself when asked if he has ever arrested the wrong person he replies “I catch the thieves, I leave the rest up to the judge.” He seems more at ease on the streets dealing with hardened criminals than leading the police force band.
As with SPL, Donnie Yen’s character does not appear to be the main focus of the story, the main character we would say would be Louis Koo’s Wilson, who’s story is a bit more complex. A man who displays confidence but at the same time is very aware of his own vulnerability. He develops a relationship with Judy (Fan Bing Bing), and as this develops he balances a fine line between his sworn duty and keeping her safe from the dangers of police work. The three brothers are introduced with little segments to show their individual characteristics. Archer, a bit of a playboy, Tiger, fiercely loyal and slightly unhinged and Tony, quiet and calculating he is capable of more than he shows. Fighting their way up from poverty they will not let anyone stand in the way of what they want to achieve to make sure their mum is looked after.
Although this retains some of the noir feel, visually this is quite different from SPL. Space is more apparent in Flashpoint where SPL was very tight and narrow in buildings and alleyways Flashpoint is more open. It is a lot lighter as well, with a lot of the action taking place in the daytime, even the night time scenes take place in well lit venues. Our first big action set piece takes place at a golf driving range when a rival gang appears to call the brothers out on a business deal, Tony steps in and shows them why the brothers are at the top. Up until this point Tony has only been shown to be a thinker but this is shows he is a force to be reckoned with.
As well as starring in this Donnie Yen also did the action direction, and took a different way with the fight coordination. Effectively starting again Donnie and his team studied Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) with John Salvitti. With this change in style from the traditional Wushu he was known for the fight sequences are more realistic than what has gone before. Feeling faster and more intense the usual flying kicks have been traded for throws and grappling maneuvers which at the time of release were rarely seen in action cinema.
As much as we like new things there are a few moments which could be seen as homages to Jackie Chan, the first of which is a foot chase between Ma and Tiger. With a style of parkour recognizable to fans and camera set ups which go between wide shots of people running down embankments to tight shots of people tic tacking over a gate, this chase is classic Chan but with a darker edge.
Playing within the traditional 3 act structure the finale of this piece is very intense, taking up approximately 22mins of the 88min runtime, it packs a punch. It starts off with a tense trade off of hostages which quickly moves into a ballet of gunplay to rival any Hollywood shootout with some cool John Woo style beats in the action. There are some really well executed beats within this and one or two which perhaps given the realistic style take you out of the flow for a second or two. From the gun fight it flows seamlessly into the throw down between Ma and Tony. They both start with guns in their hands but ultimately decide to use their fighting skills. This is one of the longest and most intense screen fights we can remember seeing. The fight moves along at a flowing pace and appears to have two halves to it. Our combatants start off on the second story, Tony’s style is very much attack and destroy but Ma, being a police officer, is seen to be using MMA grappling skills to try and subdue and possibly arrest his foe without inflicting too much damage. The tempo shifts and intensity increases when our pair crash to ground level. From here the hits look harder and the impacts look stronger, leaving us to ponder whether Ma will do the right thing and be a decent police officer or if his emotional side will take over. Budget wise this feels more like a bigger budget blockbuster than SPL, but having said that the story is still grounded in the characters and their relationships.
The finale certainly feels like a big budget piece and we feel it may have been filmed on the same location as part of SPL was set, which again ties in quite nicely to our thoughts of this being a prequel. Donnie Yen always brings a fresh feel to his work and this is why he is our favourite on screen Martial Artist working today.