Yes, this is one of those Hong Kong action movies. The main difference being that this one is great.
You know, I was quite drawn to HK action films back in the 90s, when everybody spoke of John Woo and how awesome he was. Truth be told, I bought that too, and I still like some of his HK Heroic Bloodshed days, although in smaller doses than back then. But time has gave me more perspective, and I don't enjoy those kind of films as much. Shootouts don't look that awesome, and the films look way cornier.
The good thing with perspective is that now I can look to other movies that I didn't bother to look at back then, and now and then I happen to stumble upon a gem, like this film.
First things first, yep, it's a HK action film, but not a Heroic Bloodshed one. At the helm is HK veteran Ringo Lam. Which is good news, for a number of reasons. First of all, he's easily the HK whose camerawork resembles more a western filmmaker. Here you'll see few of the low budget techniques that often jarr HK action movies. His pacing is never too sluggish nor too rushed, and his use of editing is simply flawless.
The second good reason is that Ringo Lam cares more about his characters than other HK filmmakers. Don't take me wrong, the script has its share of disposable characters, but the main character is very well depicted. Which takes me to Chow Yun Fat. Simply put, he's brilliant here. He plays Jeff, a criminal with a short fuse. More or less that's it, but it's a joy to watch him in action. He's quite scary when he retorts to violence, which is often, and his outbursts are very credible. Between this and "Curse of the golden flower" I'm starting to believe western critics have been too harsh on Chow Yun Fat for the last decade. After all, his roles were rather bad.
The plot? Your standard "Payback" clone. No surprises here, really, but this is easily Ringo Lam's more action packed movie, so you won't be bored. Actually, the action scenes in the first third are easily among the best I've seen in a HK film. And Lam's interest for characters extends even to the supporting ones, which are few but rather colourful, another first time for a HK action film.
Way to go. What can I say? Rent it, or buy it if you are into HK action films. There are no acrobatics here, but a true crime film as action packed as it can be without stopping being a crime film instead of an action one. Plus what probably is Chow Yun Fat's best acting ever, which is something to consider.