FIST POWER (2000) review

Shot on the cheap and in less than a fortnight by the exact same team responsible for the dubious Body Weapon one year earlier (director Aman Chang, producer Wong Jing and star Vincent Zhao mainly), Fist Power is a small, harmless action film about Chau, a Hong Kong policeman (Anthony Wong Chau Sang) who holds an entire school hostage in a desperate attempt to reclaim custody of his son. It’s left to Chiu, a Mainland security expert (Vincent Zhao) whose nephew is in said school, to find the son and bring it to Chau before he blows up the place.

Narratively, Fist Power is pretty straightforward : after half-an-hour spent setting things up, the film becomes a basic race against the clock for its remaining hour. The only obstacle Chiu meets in his quest to bring Chau’s son to him are thugs at the service of Chau’s estranged wife, and so the film is always alternating between our hero running from a point A to a point B, and scenes of our hero beating up some anonymous thugs. All that being interspersed with scenes of Sam Lee trying to provide comic relief, and as usual, alienating the audience in the process. That would be fine if the director were able to ramp up the tension, but instead he seems more interested in throwing every cheap, direct-to-video-reeking editing trick at the spectator, undermining not only the film’s already flimsy suspense, but also its numerous action scenes. This is all the more annoying as Fist Power has a lot of talent in front of the camera.

This was Vincent Zhao’s last feature film before receding to television for a decade (followed by a comeback with Yuen Woo Ping’s True Legend). His film career had been stuck between the thankless task of having to fill Jet Li’s big shoes on the Once Upon A time In China series, and playing second fiddle to bigger stars in big successes such as Fong Sai Yuk and The Chinese Feast. Fist Power was a depressing exit from screens for this gifted though slightly charisma-challenged actor. He gets to fight a lot here, but the action scenes are all quick cuts and close-ups, never giving a real sense of who does what and how, and giving off the impression that the director is trying to conceal the main actor’s lack of martial arts experience. Except of course Vincent Zhao is a Wushu champion, so every action scene feels like a waste of good talent, especially a final fight that includes not only Zhao, but also other action luminaries such as the great Kara Hui, the grandmother of action actresses Cheng Pei Pei, and Liu Chia Liang’s brother Liu Chia Yung. In his few scenes, Anthony Wong Chau Sang simply looks at best bored, and at worst disinterested, like in an unwittingly hilarious moment where, lying on the grass of the school’s playground, he exclaims “Why do they not understand what I am trying to do ?” with a devastating lack of conviction.

Long Story Short : A cheap, disposable action film that could at least have been enjoyable if the director hadn’t insisted on savaging every single action scene with incompetent editing. *


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