If 9/11 hasn’t dampened your enthusiasm for the sight of jetliners crashing into buildings, or if you’ve ever longed to see “The Dark Knight” reborn as a witless Taiwanese buddy-cop movie, then you may well be part of the desired audience for “Black & White: The Dawn of Justice.” Although about a half-hour shorter than 2012’s “Black & White Episode 1: The Dawn of Assault,” this big, noisy, flashy, junky, altogether pitiful excuse for a blockbuster represents a much more bloated affair in terms of scale and expense, its frenetic mayhem and CGI explosions demonstrating only slightly more modulation than star Mark Chao’s permanent humorless scowl. The eminently commercial, eminently disposable result has grossed more than $16 million since opening earlier this month in China and Taiwan, but looks to have limited reach beyond Asian markets.
Once again the setting is the fictional metropolis of Harbor City, where we’ve barely had time to reacquaint ourselves with the scenery before returning helmer Tsai Yueh-hsun hurls us into what looks at first like your standard-operation multi-vehicle car chase. But the pursuit and the subsequent pileup in a series of tunnels are soon revealed as the warm-up act for a carefully timed and targeted terrorist attack, as a wave of suicide bombings quickly knocks out every highway and bridge leading out of town. With the city in an uneasy state of siege and thousands of people presumably dead or missing, it’s clearly time for maverick cop Wu Ying-xion (Chao) to step up and do his maverick-cop thing, this time with an unpromisingly smug and smart-alecky new partner, Chen Zhen (Lin Gengxin), riding shotgun.
In the first film, the comic-foil reins were handled by Xu Da-fu (mainland comedian Huang Bo, also starring in the current comedy hit “Breakup Buddies”), a benign crook whose friendship with Wu was firmly if secretly cemented by the time “The Dawn of Assault” reached its endgame. A little Huang goes a long way, and Xu is back in a happily more limited capacity this time, shouting up a storm with dynamite strapped to his chest before taking a well-earned break for most of the film’s remainder. That leaves Wu and Chen to search for Xu’s imperiled wife, Xiao-qing, whose unborn child is being used to nefarious ends by a fearsome criminal mastermind. Soon our detectives find themselves forced to make some sadistically impossible decisions — like, whether or not to save the innocent hostages who are about to be blown sky-high, when rescuing them might mean the endangerment of countless more lives.
In the view of the movie’s megavillain — who seems to have come by his murderous philosophy by watching Heath Ledger’s Joker performance on continuous loop — only a ruthless purge of humanity, with no discrimination between the guilty and the innocent, will bring about that elusive commodity known as justice. Trouble is, this brand of twisted sub-Nietzschean logic, by now more tired than provocative, becomes even harder to take seriously in a screenplay that leaves no cliche unturned: There’s the dedicated female officer (Ning Chang) and the geeky computer whiz doing their best to hold down the fort, even when said fort has been blown to smithereens; the skilled soldier (Chieh-kai Shiou) who suddenly becomes a major character, for seemingly no other reason other than the fact that the others aren’t exactly cutting it; the extended action sequence set amid a nighttime labyrinth of shipping containers; and a lethal-virus-unleashed subplot that viewers may recognize as being virtually identical to the one in the recent “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie, which just goes to show that not only great minds think alike.
If “The Dawn of Assault” marked Taiwan’s official entry into the mass-market blockbuster arena, then “The Dawn of Justice” represents a self-conscious, overreaching attempt on the part of the industry to push the envelope and earn a place at the big boys’ table, capped by a globally minded marketing campaign that has emphasized the involvement of the action team behind the “Fast & Furious” franchise (including stunt coordinator Jack Gill) and the French visual-effects powerhouse behind “Thor” (that would be BUF, whose credits also include “The Dark Knight,” “Avatar” and “Life of Pi”). Far be it from anyone to suggest that Taiwan doesn’t deserve its craptacular action movies just like every other cinematically developed nation, but the industry can and surely will do better in the future, especially if it hires a director who knows how to do something with a scene other than chopping it up or packing it with explosives.
Airplanes fall from the sky and a massive blackout overtakes Harbor City, but nothing here carries the slightest weight or conveys even fleeting visceral pleasure — least of all the strained attempts to generate some sort of bickersome chemistry between its two leads. Wu kicks, punches, jabs and shoots his way through the proceedings with stern, joyless commitment; just about the film’s only surprise arrives in a post-climactic scene in which Chao suddenly cracks a smile for the first time in two hours. The viewer will likely know the feeling.
For the record, “Black & White: The Dawn of Justice” is not to be confused with the forthcoming “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” though frankly, an attempt to capitalize on a much more hotly anticipated tentpole would not be entirely out of step with this movie’s thoroughly crass sensibility.