Extreme Crisis (1998)
For the longest time I thought I'd seen this film, having it mixed up with Full Alert and Big Bullet in my head, both of which came out around the same time. Eventually I realised I hadn't actually seen it, and decided maybe I should. The film seems to have disappointed most (re)viewers upon its release, and has come in for a lot of bashing, mainly about the same thing - namely the fact that the plot seems to bounce between cliche and incoherence without stopping for things like character development. Well, it's true - though I hope some of the incoherence comes from the crappy English subtitles (e.g. I'm sure there was more to the exchange that led to the cops tracking down the terrorists than "There's a Japanese chemist called X in Hong Kong", "Let's Go").
But anyway, high art it is most definitely not - but nor is it trying to be. The film was the directorial debut of HK's number one car stunt man Bruce Law, and his main ambition was simply to set a new level for stunt work and action work in HK films. Now, I need to be more specific there - he wasn't trying to up the ante on the martial arts and acrobatics of masters like Jackie Chan, or to beat the grace and style of gunplay maestros like John Woo - his aim was to achieve Hollywood-like levels of big explosions, special effects and "realistic" gunplay. And I think he achieved a great result. The action scenes are really impressive, putting many Hollywood films with much higher budgets to shame. There's some great "how did they do that?" moments, and the film achieves a pretty high level of basic hormonal excitement.
One of the criticisms that many people seem to level at the film is that in the second half it wants to be Die Hard too much. Again, fair enough - it's obviously in full on "homage" mode, but then DIE HARD is still pretty much the text book Hollywood action film 20 years after it was made, so it's a pretty worthy ambition of Bruce Law to try to emulate its successful aspects.
So, if you want to bash EXTREME CRISIS then it's an easy enough target - there's plenty wrong with it. But to do so is to miss the things it did manage to accomplish that make it quite a special film. One may be disappointed that it was amongst the first wave of "Hollywood Envy" films from Hong Kong, but it is one of the few that managed to do a credible job of it and still keep a certain Hong Kong charm.
Sadly, the only way to see the film right now seems to be the dismal DVD from Universe. In 1998 I guess it was what we were all used to expecting, but with the higher standards becoming common today it is difficult to watch one of these mastering disasters from then. The picture is non-anamorphic, naturally, with poor blacks and colour saturation, and severe "smearing" of the kind seen on Universe's A Hero Never Dies disc from the same period. Something to do with crappy and excessive temporal noise reduction, I think, but the result is that all fine detail is lost when there is movement on screen, as after-images compound to turn the picture into a muddy mess. The sound is just as bad, with a "mixed by monkeys" 5.1 remix that is particularly damaging in the action scenes, where foley effects are mixed with seemingly random volume levels and sometimes out of sync. OK, so it's not unwatchable, but it's definitely a poor presentation, and unfortunately it doesn't seem that Universe have any plans to remaster their back catalogue like Mei Ah.
Still, I'm sure the DVD can be had for very cheap, and I reckon it's worth picking up :)