The Fatal Raid (Hong Kong, 2019) [NYAFF 2019]

The Fatal Raid brings back the “girls with guns” sub-genre of Asian action cinema with a bang. Jacky Lee’s film kicks off with a raid by Hong Kong police in Macao to take down a gang of gun smugglers. Led by Inspector Tam (Patrick Tam), Har Gor (Michael Tong), and Madam Fong (Jade Leung), a member of the Special Female Force, the operation goes horribly wrong. The raid is a secret operation but many of the police, all of the gang members, and two innocent civilians are killed. The official statement by the government is that what occurred was an accidental explosion.

Fast forward twenty years and the two surviving members of the disastrous raid have clearly been haunted by that fateful day with Tam still trying to get recognition and compensation for his fallen comrades. Tam and Fong are once again going to Macao, this time to escort a dignitary to a special dinner. Fong is not happy with the assignment and becomes emotional. While everything initially goes well, a group of anarchists disrupt the team’s trip home so Tam and Fong, along with a new Special Female Force are back in action. When they find the anarchists, they find something even more troubling than a few young men playing games.

The Fatal Raid is an over-the-top action film reminiscent of the 1970s exploitation “girls-with-guns” films, except instead of gang members, the girls here are members of a special police unit. It is just as exploitative, with beautiful young women dressed in shorts and thigh-high leather boots, but that is part of the fun. There are also some minor scenes of comic relief in the form of a young Macao police officer who falls head-over-heels for one of the female commandos, though they generally feel unnecessary. Like most films of the exploitation era, the characters are one-dimensional, though we learn that Tam’s wife is either dying or already dead and this is what ultimately drives his surprising actions later in the film. What we never seem to find out is the motive of the ultimate bad guy, though we can guess.

This is a violent film with lots of martial arts and lot of guns. But the guns are also part of the fun since most of the time it takes forever for someone to actually get hit. The action sequences are well directed and the fight choreography is well done. However, the story is on the flimsy side and it is disappointing that there are some loose ends while certain sub-plots go nowhere. There is some political and social commentary, as is often seen in 1970s exploitation films, such as the secrecy of the first raid leading to the dead being forgotten by all but a few, and the fact that the Special Female Force is full of bad-ass women, but they are still treated as inferior to the men on the police force. This is one of the film’s most enjoyable aspects as that underlying commentary was lost in the exploitation films of the 1980s and 1990s.

Overall, despite its faults, The Fatal Raid is a fun, enjoyable film with in-your-face action that never seems to let up.

The Fatal Raid is showing at the New York Asian Film Festival 2019 on July 5.