Ever since Jackie Chan made his mark on Hong Kong cinema, the concept of blending action with slapstick comedy feels almost natural to the industry’s creative market. And that’s not to say that this combination of action and comedy is unique to Kong Hong cinema, because it isn’t by any stretch. But films of this nature somehow have a sense of belonging to the general oeuvre of the Hong Kong entertainment industry, which has produced countless gems over the past few decades (with or without Chan).
Undercover Punch & Gun is a very obvious attempt at creating a kinetically charged action comedy narrative in keeping with films that have come before it, but unfortunately falls flat in more than a few ways. As part of their co-directorial debut, Frankie Tam and Philip Lui have chosen to create a film that leans heavily on the type of material that have propelled their careers as writers. Looking at their writing credits collectively, it’s no surprise that they would gravitate to a story about undercover cops and criminals, mixed in with flavors of kung fu. Unfortunately, this preexisting experience doesn’t necessarily equate to a substantially entertaining cinematic experience.
The film centers around Wu (Philip Ng), an undercover cop who unwillingly takes over as the head of a small triad organization when its leader is killed. After being pushed into this precarious position, he teams up with a local informant (Vanness Wu) in order to take down rival gang leader Qiankun (Andy On). Along the way, there are also guest appearances from the likes of Nicholas Tse, Lam Suet, Carrie Ng and Susan Yam-Yam Shaw.
Right off the bat, it’s quite clear that Undercover Punch & Gun isn’t a refined technical effort. Although Tam and Lui attempt to inject their sense of creative flare into the film, with plenty of quick camera edits and off-kilter comedic beats, the overall effect is one that feels amateurish and somewhat uninspired. Even though the filmmakers are obviously borrowing from the cinematic influences that have permeated their previous films (as writers), there just isn’t a clear stylistic tone that filters throughout the film. As a result, it often feels stale and half-baked, even when there is a bit of excitement on screen.
And when there is a bit of excitement, it mostly comes from the film’s comedic tendencies, rather than its action. Ng and Wu have a slew of chirpy interactions that are entertaining enough, and help balance out the one-dimensional antagonist that On seemed to have drew the short straw on. The brief appearances by Tse, Suet, Ng (Carrie) and Shaw will serve as nice surprises for anyone familiar with Hong Kong cinema.
But these high notes are counterbalanced by action choreography that is thoroughly disappointing. I don’t think anyone would consider Ng, Wu or On as action superstars, but the trio has had their share of work as fighters onscreen, and have demonstrated their worth in one way or another. Undercover Punch & Gun does no favours for any of them, and in no way highlights their physical prowess or athleticism. Ng takes on double duties as the film’s action choreographer, and is presumably at least partly to blame for the film’s lackluster fight scenes. But the film’s locales and tame editing are also contributing factors.
In the end, while Tam and Lui seem to have approached their co-directorial debut with the best of intentions, Undercover Punch & Gun just doesn’t have the kinetic buoyancy that its premise and initial guise would have suggested. It reaches for light slapstick moments and intense action sequences, but fails to meet the inflection point that would have resulted in a perfect pairing. Seeing Wu and On reunite since their 2003 collaboration Star Runner is a nice throwback but as the film simply isn’t a cohesive piece of cinema it unfortunately adds little to the illustrious subgenre it strives to emulate.
Wilson Kwong is a cinema lover and film festival enthusiast based out of Toronto, Canada. He normally works in healthcare, but escapes from his day job by writing random thoughts about cinema on the internet. Within the realm of Asian cinema, his focus is on the Hong Kong film industry. He is currently touring Toronto’s film festival circuit and the rest of his work can be found on his website throwdown815.