In 2005, director Wilson Yip and star Donnie Yen blew the doors off the action genre with SPL, a gritty, nihilistic cop drama that featured some bone breaking martial arts action partnered with some solid cinematic storytelling. For their next four films together, Yip and Yen would push one another to create some of the most spectacular and eye-popping action films to come out of Hong Kong in recent memory: Flash Point marks the culmination of this synthesis.
On the surface the film appears simple enough.Months before China’s takeover of Hong Kong, Detective Ma Jun (Yen), a cop with a penchant for dishing out justice with his fists as much as the law, is tasked with bringing down a ruthless trio of Vietnamese drug smuggling brothers.Ma Jun’s methods are bold and questionable, but he feels they are absolutely necessary. The Vietnamese brothers’ actions are just as savage. They carry an intense family bond: Alpha male Tony (Colin Chou), leads the crew through a barrage of violence and intimidation, pounding their way through the Hong Kong criminal underworld. Little do they know that Ma Jun is working with one of their own, an undercover cop named Wilson (Louis Koo). The forces of violence and destruction that are personified by Ma Jun and Tony have no choice but to climax in an awe-inspiring whirlwind of action carnage.
Much can be said for the simplicity of Flash Point. It could be said that it’s strictly a vehicle to showcase the truly spectacular martial arts skills of Donnie Yen, Colin Chou, Xing Yu and company.However, the simplicity of the script is merely a front for something deeper. With SPL, the one-on-one showdown between Yen and Sammo Hung introduced MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) into mainstream Hong Kong cinema, something Yen has become deeply passionate about (he was in attendance during the UFC’s inaugural event in Macau and trains avidly with his friend, teacher and adviser John Salvatti). With Flash Point, he wanted to push the boundaries, and take Hong Kong action cinema into a new direction. Regardless of whether Yen felt that much of the local choreography was becoming repetitive, he must have sensed that what was once something truly unique to Chinese and Hong Kong films, namely Kung Fu, had since been embraced and adopted by the rest of the world. It was therefore necessary for Hong Kong cinema to up the stakes.
It’s not a coincidence that the trio of brothers trying to ruthlessly make their fortune in the Hong Kong underworld are foreigners. And that when push comes to shove, and the Hong Kong crime bosses try, both figuratively and literally, to stand up to Tony, they are defeated in hand-to-hand combat. The Vietnamese brothers, specifically Tony and Tiger (Xing Yu) are able to destroy any Hong Kong native in a stand up fight. These foreigners are able to easily dominate the Chinese in what was once their domain, Kung Fu. When it comes time for Ma Jun to do battle with them, he too tries to figuratively and literally stand up to them, but unlike everyone else in the film, he takes the fight to new and exciting places. Utilizing MMA (mixed martial arts), in a most spectacular of fashion, Yen is able to dominate them. And this is what makes Flash Point a game-changer. It’s a call to arms for Hong Kong genre filmmakers to not repeat themselves, but to embrace a new style of martial arts, to be innovative and beat the international market at something that the Chinese used to do so well. Yet it should also be noted that Flashpoint would not work so well if it weren’t for Yip’s expert direction and Cheung Man-Po’s stunning cinematography. The 20-minute finale is breathtaking, and all the more so because of the swooping camera moves and pulse-pounding soundtrack.
Flash Point is not only one of the best action movies of at least the last decade, but probably the best film to highlight MMA. This is all the more amazing when considering that, unlike most films that feature MMA, this one has nothing do with it, save the opening which takes place in an MMA gym. Instead, the formidable talents of Yip and Yen have made a film that, at its core, is about martial arts, but operates under the guise of a hard-hitting cop story.