SILVER HAWK (2004) review

Following her rise to international fame thanks to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Michelle Yeoh founded Mythical Films with her then-companion Thomas Chung, with an eye towards giving herself tailor-made roles in films with an international ambition. The venture led to Peter Pau’s The Touch, a sporadically enjoyable Indiana Jones-wannabe that was successful in China but not anywhere else, and to Silver Hawk, which replicated The Touch’s pattern of success. Both films are vanity projects of sorts for Yeoh, as she cast herself first as a fearless adventurer then as a fearless super-heroine, in films that glorified the grace of her moves and the flawlessness of her skin. Not that there’s anything wrong with the idea of a film glorifying Michelle Yeoh. One of the most beautiful actresses in the world, a skillfull martial artists of unparalleled grace in action, but also a powerful dramatic actress (as evidenced in films like the aforementioned Ang Lee film and Far North, among many others), Yeoh is the very definition of a true movie star. But the cold, hard truth is that Silver Hawk is as misguided a star vehicle as it gets.

Michelle Yeoh plays Lulu Wong, officially a wealthy business-woman, but secretly a crime-fighter dressed as winged creature. The parallel with Batman may be glaring, but the somber tone of the dark knight’s adventures is nowhere to be seen, and comparisons stop here. She is introduced rescuing a couple of pandas, but soon she has to thwart an evil world-dominating scheme by Wolfe (English actor Luke Goss), with the help a cop and former childhood sweetheart (Richie Jen) and a semi-crazed fan (Brandon Chang). The plot is so throwaway in its accumulation of superhero-movie cliché that I won’t bother to delve into it. What Silver Hawk does differently, as far as its superhero universe is concerned, is to make it much more girl-orientated. Not only is the superhero a woman, but the entire world in which the movie is set (half near future, half fantasized Hong Kong) is extremely sanitized.

Director Jingle Ma is the master of glitz (see Tokyo Raiders or Seoul Raiders for proof) and not of much else. He shoots the action like it’s an ad for the latest Kenzo perfume, severely wasting his lead actress’ natural prowess. Why should he feel the need to ramp up the action with slow-motion and fast-motion, when Yeoh’s balletic moves are already impressive by themselves ? Oh well, at least the film looks nice, all bathed in blinding white, and Michelle Yeoh looks great (not a surprise) in her various outfits. Not many actresses can play a super-heroine at past forty, but Yeoh pulls it of perfectly, even adding a sense of levity that her usual kick-ass or somber roles don’t allow for. And there are nice touches that serve to distract from the ambient mediocrity : American martial artist Michael Jai White and Chinese actress Li Bingbing play an unlikely pair of henchmen (imagine a tall black guy with an aviator’s helmet and a petite Chinese beauty in a blue wig) and Peter Kam’s main musical theme is surprisingly light and wistful. But in the end all you’ll remember is the aggravation brought by Richie Jen and Brandon Chang’s comic-relief characters, and the wasted opportunity of seeing Michelle Yeoh in her own superhero franchise.

Long Story Short : A featherweight superhero movie in which Michelle Yeoh’s talent and a few quirky touches can’t distract from misguided perfume-ad directing and a throwaway world-domination plot. ** 

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