THE FATAL RAID (2019) review

p2572875993Jacky Lee’s The Fatal Raid was initially announced as a sequel to Wilson Chin’s lackluster Girls With Guns revival Special Female Force, before dropping the connection altogether. Indeed, only three actresses return – in new roles – from the 2016 film: Jade Leung, Jeana Ho and Hidy Yu. Twenty years ago, Hong Kong inspectors Tam (Patrick Tam), Hard Gor (Michael Tong), Fong (Jade Leung), Shirley (Sharon Luk) and the rest of their team conducted a raid in Macao against a group of vicious gangsters, which ended in the deaths of Hard Gor, Shirley and an innocent bystander. Now, still shell-shocked from this botched operation, Tam and Fong must return to Macao to face an anarchist gang that threatens the city’s safety. Backing them is a special female force comprised of Alma (Jeana Ho), Yan Han (Lin Min Chen), Sheila (Hidy Yu) and Yu Yu (Jadie Lin).

With a much smaller female ensemble cast than its predecessor (a little over a half-dozen actresses, compared to Special Female Force‘s twenty-five beauties), The Fatal Raid is a tighter, more focused and small-scale affair, with none of the cringe-worthy comedic interludes and soapy melodrama of Wilson Chin’s film. It also trades in that film’s flashy style with much grittier, Paul Greengrass-inspired editing and cinematography, and a more authentic feel: gone is the extensive use of stunt-doubles and wireworks, replaced by down-and-dirty grappling often valiantly performed by the actresses themselves. Comedic interludes are not absent, but they’re generally brief and understated: rivals Jeana Ho and Lin Min Chen keep trading barbs in an amusingly deadpan way, while Chiu Sin Hang wins a few smiles as Lin’s lovestruck colleague. Ogling of cleavage and bouncy asses is also kept at a bare minimum: even a fairly gratuitous scene where the special female force gets changed on the side of the road (of all places) is quite succinct.

However, the plot is an incredibly simplistic yet self-serious affair: the titular fatal raid, from which the film’s entire plot ripples, is too limply directed to serve as tragic narrative fuel for the film. Characters are given next to no defining features, with most being simply taciturn cyphers. Stilted dialogue scenes between them and high-ranking officials lead nowhere. There’s two half-hearted plot twists than land with a thud, despite all the sobbing they incur. Action scenes fall into one of two categories: protracted shootouts that look good but in which a lot of rounds are fired without much consequence (seemingly these characters can’t aim at all), and hand-to-hand combat that’s dynamic and impactful (with enough scissoring to make Black Widow dizzy) but always over too soon. The film’s low budget doesn’t help: it takes place mostly in empty offices, empty strips of highway and empty warehouses (watch out for the logo of one of the film’s production companies in one of these warehouses, an amusing oversight).

This is all the more unfortunate as the cast is low-key but effective, and begged to be put to better use. With exactly the same role of steely but traumatized Madam as in Special Female Force, Jade Leung is once again largely wasted: it’s good to see her and she’s more affecting in her role than the film really deserves, but the script keeps her oddly inert, and completely ineffectual during the action scenes. Lin Min Chen is a minor revelation as a smart and spunky operative, while Jeana Ho is less believable but still quite good at displaying a harder edge heretofore unsuspected in her career. Sharon Luk and Jadie Lin have no impact whatsoever on the film, but Hidy Yu, who showed promise as a smoldering villain in Special Female Force, is again a striking presence, though underused. Despite this being a female-centric film, Patrick Tam gets the most fleshed-out role (with Kristy Yeung cameoing as his ailing wife), and he gives it his all, seemingly under the impression that Ringo Lam or John Woo is behind the camera.

Long Story Short: The Fatal Raid is a step up from Special Female Force, with a more consistent tone and grittier action. Still, it’s poorly-written and makes disappointingly sparse use of a talented female ensemble. **

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