Special ID (China, 2013) [Terracotta 2014]


Special ID, is a rip-roaring action film directed by Clarence Fok, who is perhaps best known in the West for his 1992 classic Naked Killer. In a nutshell, Special ID is a winner! Donnie plays undercover detective Chen Zilong who is known in the criminal underworld he’s infiltrated as “Dragon” Chen. There’s lots of suspicion, distrust and betrayal going on, as one might expect in this kind of film. Chief among the culprits are gang leader Xiong (Colin Chou) and Chen’s former protégé Sonny (Andy On).

There are action sequences a-plenty, very fine ones as far as I’m concerned. Lots of fisticuffs as well as a nicely done car chase in which Volvos are prominently featured. (China’s Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd. completed its purchase of Ford Motor Co’s Volvo unit in August 2010.) That car chase culminates in the climactic one-on-one battle between Chen and Sonny.

With Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan and Jet Li in the “aging out” process, “Donnie the Prince” is becoming “Donnie the King” of Chinese action movies. His role here is somewhat similar to Tony Leung’s in John Woo’s Hard Boiled (1992). In fact, Special ID‘s action scenes have the intensity of Woo’s old “bullet ballets” but with fists, elbows, knees and feet instead of guns. Also without the slow mo’ and white doves.

The film brought to mind some of the other great Hong Kong films of the 1990s, including Jackie Chan’s Police Story series (1985-2013). I make these comparisons in the most respectful way. Whether or not Fok intended to hint at that golden age of Honk Kong actioners, I found it very enjoyable to experience once again the awesomely satisfying feeling that came from watching those great films.

For me, though, the real revelation was Yen’s considerably improved acting. He’s tended to be very restricted, limited, and emotionless in his film roles, but in Special ID he exhibits heretofore unseen tics, gestures and expressions that really bring his character to life. Very nice to see this evolution taking place; hopefully he’ll continue to evolve in that regard. Tian Jing is fine looking as Fang Jing, a mainland cop who’s at loggerheads with Chen. She does surprisingly well in the action scenes, and did many of her own stunts. Her delicate bone structure does make her physical toughness a bit far-fetched. (Her arms are so thin that she reminded me of Phoebe, the character with “avian bone syndrome” in the television show 30 Rock.) No matter; she’s perfectly fine in the role and provides a welcome respite from the abundant testosterone with which the film is imbued.

Special ID is one helluva fine actioner; very highly recommended.

Special ID plays at the Terracotta Far East Film Festival on Saturday May 31. Click here for screening times and tickets.