LINE WALKER 2: INVISIBLE SPY (2019) review

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2016’s Line Walker was a loose spin-off from the highly-successful TVB series of the same title, with the characters of Charmaine Sheh and Hui Shiu Hung the only ties between small and big screen; this Line Walker 2: Invisible Spy is a thematic sequel, with all narrative connections to the TV show now severed, as Sheh and Hui don’t return. Louis Koo, Nick Cheung and Francis Ng do return however, in new roles. When a hacker (Jiang Peiyao), arrested for her connection to a terrorist car crash in the center of Hong Kong, reveals that there may be a network of undercover terrorists in the Hong Kong police, everyone becomes a potential suspect, including the three officers in charge of retrieving a hard-drive containing a list of the moles from a location in Burma: Ching (Nick Cheung), Cheng (Louis Koo) and Yip (Francis Ng). Ching and Cheng are both former students of Yip, but they may share a far older bond, while their allegiances soon prove mysterious.

Dispensing completely with the goofy interludes of the first film, Invisible Spy is a deadly serious affair, packing its brisk 95-minute runtime to the brim with shootouts, tragedy, thunderous revelations, double-crosses and red herrings, to the point that one does wish it had lasted at least twenty more minutes, if only to allow the spectator to catch their breath, or to flesh out characters whose only defining features are the signature charisma of the stars who play them. In a way, the fact that the script by Cat Kwan is an enjoyably ludicrous Russian Doll that requires endless suspension of disbelief and has quite a few holes, may explain why the film’s pace is so quick: just as your brain starts to ponder the implausibilities of the story, the film erupts in a furious car chase or a extravagant shootout, all orchestrated with expected bravado by Chin Kar Lok.

An early highlight is a superb gunfight in Burma, but the finale needs to be seen to be believed. Just a few weeks after Gobi Ng directed a gobsmacking car chase through the Hong Kong subway in The White Storm 2: Drug Lords, Chin Kar Lok manages to up the ante with the finale of Invisible Spy: a jaw-dropping car chase in Pamplona, both in its narrow streets and among the running of the bulls. A protracted hoeric-bloodshed two-against-one close combat then follows, echoing the first film’s end scene when Louis Koo and Nick Cheung hopelessly fought an unstoppable Shi Yanneng to the bitter end. Here, a bull is used in slightly ridiculous fashion, though one has to admire the animal-wrangling and CGI involved.

Indeed, ridiculousness is never quite absent in Invisible Spy: a secret anti-terrorist unit operates from what looks like a batcave, unholy things are done with Rubik’s cubes, the villain is a constantly sniggering, campy killing machine… And yet the relentless pace and Jazz Boon’s bombastic and assured style mean that it goes down a treat. Hell, the film even manages true poignancy, thanks to an unstoppable trio of stars. Louis Koo, Nick Cheung and Francis Ng know one another pretty well by now, and their chemistry is a thing of beauty. Each scene shared by two or more of the leads just sizzles with intensity and charisma. Sure, none of them are stretching their talent here, but they’re playing at the height of their respective signature styles. Koo is all handsome, stone-faced intensity, yet drawing blood from that very stone in a gut-wrenching way that recalls his superlative turn in SPL: Paradox. Cheung is a smiling cypher, a magnetic Cheshire Cat whose tragic bromance with Koo’s character (frankly not far from downright romance at times) we could watch for hours. And Ng, in a more supporting part, is nevertheless more involved than he has been in a while, masterfully displaying his brand of paradoxically aloof intensity. There’s bread-crumbs left for the rest of the cast, with Jiang Peiyao particularly miscast as a supposedly all-terrain hacker.

Long Story Short: Ludicrous and grandiose yet thrilling and poignant, Line Walker 2: Invisible Spy plugs its plot holes with a magnificent trio of stars, assured and bombastic direction, and jaw-dropping action. ***1/2

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