The second half of the nineties can in a way be considered Donnie Yen’s “dark period”; Yen had earned a reputation as a difficult actor to work with, and alienated himself from the Yuen clan, mainly his mentor Yuen Woo-Ping. Thus, he turned to TV (where he found success with the Fist Of Fury TV series), and to alternate Asian film industries, such as Taiwan or the Philippines. It is in the latter country that he shot Asian Cop: High Voltage (henceforward High Voltage), under the direction of Andrew Kam. In the film, Yen plays Chiang, a headstrong cop (just like he does in most of his contemporary-set films) who gets sent to the Philippines to ensure the safety of an important witness who is the only one who can testify against bla bla bla… There he is partnered with Edu (Edu Manzano), a by-the-book Filipino cop who doesn’t approve of his methods bla bla bla… But Chiang discovers that crazed gangster Dick (Roy Cheung) is involved in the whole affair, and you see, Dick killed Chiang’s wife. So Chiang, who was already a bit of loose cannon, in now an even looser cannon.

The plot of High Voltage is nothing new. I could list all the clichés it regurgitates without even trying to put even the slightest spin on them, but I’ve promised myself that my reviews would never be longer than 1000 words. Still, being nothing new isn’t such a cardinal sin, especially when a film doesn’t fancy itself to be more than a good action romp. But the problem is, High Voltage was seemingly made on such a shoestring budget, that calling it shoestring would be an insult to the oeuvre of Godfrey Ho.  There’s such a a sense of pervading shoddiness to the proceedings, that after a while you begin to grow paranoid: haven’t I seen this mustachioed extra in a previous completely unrelated scene? Is everyone using the very same gun? Is the image hideously grainy on purpose?

When the film erupts into an action scene, which is often, “scattershot” is the word that comes to mind. The hand-to-hand action isn’t only edited with no regard to basic considerations of efficiency, it’s also ridiculously undercranked/sped-up, to the point that you might think Donnie Yen’s character has super-powers. When the film isn’t on action mode, you have to suffer through indredibly bland procedural scenes, and it doesn’t help that the cast is uniformly bland too, from Filipino star Edu Manzano’s complete lack of charisma, to Roy Cheung’s sleepwalking. As for Donnie Yen, he’s serviceable but you can’t help but feel for this ambitious actor/action director, who is trapped in a mediocre film. Luckily Yen is now a big star, and he gets to play the headstrong cop in infinitely better films.

Long Story Short: Not much to salvage in this cheap little action film. *

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